THE GOVERNMENT has been defeated in an Oireachtas vote this evening for the first time since taking office – in a tight vote over the controversial Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes.
The Fine Gael and Labour members of the Oireachtas’ all-party finance committee were beaten by 11 votes to 9 on whether to seek a hearing with Patrick Honohan, the governor of the Central Bank to whom the notes are owed, before the end of March.
The proposal was passed with the support of Fianna Fáíl, Sinn Féín and independent members of the committee – even though the government commands a 16-11 majority of the committee’s 27 members, which reflects the parties’ strengths in the combined Dáil and Seanad.
In a roll call vote, the government parties were beaten by 11 votes to 9 – with Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews, who had tabled the proposal himself, voting against his own motion in line with the party whip.
The proposal means that the committee will seek evidence from Honohan before March 23, during the Dáil’s recess – crucially, in the week before the first repayment on the controversial promissory notes, of €3.1 billion, is due.
Fianna Fáil senator Thomas Byrne, a member of the committee, said on Twitter that a number of government members had been late in arriving at the committee room when the vote was called – and were locked out of the room when members were called by name to indicate their votes.
This evening’s meeting would have also coincided with the weekly meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, which would have accounted for the absence of 10 Fine Gael members.
This morning in the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had deflected opposition demands to comment on the status of the negotiations on the promissory note, saying he did not want to raise expectations about the talks, or put a “time limit” on their outcome.
Mathews could not be contacted at the time of publication, while committee chairman Alex White (Labour) had not returned requests for comment.
The events mark the first time in several years than an incumbent government has lost a vote at committee level. The previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition was beaten on one vote in its lifetime, when two Green senators failed to show for a vote on an amendment to the Civil Registration Bill.
On that instance, however, the opposition amendment was removed at later stages. In this instance, the government cannot seek to overturn the vote, which will see the Central Bank governor appear before the committee against the government’s stated wishes.
It had been speculated that Honohan would raise the matter of the promissory notes at last week’s meeting of the ECB Governing Council, but ECB president Mario Draghi said afterward that the topic had not been broached.
Although the cash is owed to the Central Bank of Ireland, which created the promissory notes during the banking crisis to fund Anglo Irish Bank’s immediate obligations, the ECB is required to give approval of any act which would effectively increase the volume of money in circulation.
This means that the Central Bank cannot write off Anglo’s obligations, which are being met by the State since its nationalisation, without the prior approval of the ECB. When the cash is repaid to the Central Bank, it is taken out of circulation and effectively destroyed.