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Enda Kenny Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Seanad-igans

Enda avoids more McNulty embarrassment - but now has a BIG problem in the Seanad

Analysis: The Seanad will continue to cause the Taoiseach and the coalition a headache in the coming months.

TODAY’S ELECTION OF Gerard Craughwell to the Seanad ahead of John McNulty will be viewed in Fine Gael and government circles as the lesser of two evils.

The independent candidate and former TUI president just squeezed past the controversial Fine Gael nominee with the help of transfers from Sinn Féin – itself a remarkable thing given Craughwell’s previous employment with the British Army.

It’s indicative of the level of disillusionment with the whole process and, in some cases, with Enda Kenny’s leadership that so many (we don’t know the exact amount due to the secrecy of the ballot) coalition TDs and Senators still voted for McNulty despite him asking not to be considered and the Taoiseach reinforcing that request.

Some ministers, TDs, and Senators openly defied Kenny by giving their number one to McNulty who had indicated he would resign immediately if elected. This is an embarrassment for Kenny, but the ultimate embarrassment of seeing McNulty elected has been avoided.

“It’s over now, isn’t it?” one senior Fine Gael source asked us in Leinster House today, seemingly looking for reassurance that the controversy would go away.

Seanad By-Election Count. Independent c Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Yes, ‘McNulty-gate’ is over but there is a bigger headache awaiting the government now as it grapples with being in the minority in the upper house.

This had already caused some minor headaches for the coalition in recent months with Deirdre Clune’s departure to the European Parliament putting it in the minority until the by-election could be held.

It was the reason why the upper house was able to force Arts Minister Heather Humphreys to come in and explain her role in the entire McNulty affair. Had the government a majority this could have been avoided

Now Craughwell’s election leaves the Seanad with 31 opposition and independent senators to the government’s 29. This means there is now a distinct possibility that the coalition will lose quite a few votes in the coming months.

This all goes back to the Taoiseach’s widely-lauded decision to appoint genuinely independent voices to the upper house in March 2011. But that has in some ways backfired with the likes of Jillian van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone and others not afraid to vote against the government.

Added to that Fine Gael has lost Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford over abortion and Labour lost James Heffernan over social welfare cuts with all three being expelled from their respective parliamentary parties.

Craughwell is a former member of Fine Gael who left the party in 2009, but says “at this point in time” he has no intention of returning to the party. He will be an independent senator who will take ”each issue as it comes”.

“I am not going to put myself in the position where I’ll be whipped by any party,” he firmly declared outside Leinster House today.

All eyes will now be on how the upper house deals with the Budget measures announced next week.

With the worst of austerity seemingly over it’s entirely possible there won’t be too many problems for the government (In any case the Seanad can only delay money bills for 90 days).

But there will be plenty of other votes between now and the next election that could go the wrong way for the coalition. Where the upper house has been particularly effective is in forcing ministers to come in and explain certain controversies as was the case with Humphreys recently.

“The democratic process has taken its course,” said a government spokesperson of today’s by-election result. Now that it has, the coalition will have to deal with the consequences.

Read: Ireland’s newest senator: I won’t be whipped by any party

Explainer: 8 things you need to know about Fine Gael’s Seanad shambles… and why it matters

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