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Coalition headache

The government has lost another Seanad vote - and it could delay free GP care for children

Senator John Crown’s amendment to free GP care legislation has been passed – against the government’s wishes.

Updated 6.15pm 

Hugh O'Connell / YouTube

THE GOVERNMENT HAS suffered another defeat in the Seanad on an amendment to legislation that will give free GP care to children under six.

An amendment proposed by independent senator and consultant oncologist John Crown was passed against the government’s attempts to block it.

The amendment to the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014, which is currently at committee stage in the upper house, effectively bans the gagging of doctors who speak out against the health service.

Unless the amendment is removed in the Seanad at report stage next week, the passage of the Bill could be delayed as it must go back to the Dáil - meaning a mandatory three-month delay in passing the legislation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 17.32.23 Senator John Crown pushed for a walk-through vote on his amendment - ensuring a government defeat.

The government had intended to have free GP care for under sixes in place by the autumn but the scheme could now be delayed until later this year as a result of today’s vote.

The amendment was defeated by the government on an electronic vote by 25 votes to 24 but was passed by 27 votes to 26 when a walk-through vote was requested by Crown.

Even though Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe arrived in the Seanad for the walk-through vote, the opposition managed to secure a victory after Sinn Féin senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh – who was paired with O’Keeffe – and David Cullinane as well as Fianna Fáil’s Averil Power arrived in the chamber.

It is the latest vote that the government has lost in the upper house as it grapples with the loss of its majority following the election of Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune to the European Parliament in May.

The current numbers in the Seanad see the government with 29 votes when all Labour and Fine Gael senators are included, along with the casting vote of cathaoirleach Paddy Burke.

However Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, independents and three senators who have lost the government whip make up a total of 30 votes.

The coalition can normally rely on the support of some independents such as Jillian Van Turnhout and Marie Louise O’Donnell, but it has lost a number of votes in recent months, including on a bill to ban upward only rent reviews.

The government is introducing legislation that will help it to elect Clune’s replacement and restore its Seanad majority in the Dáil this Friday.

Read: The government doesn’t have a majority in the Seanad and has to change the law to get it back

Background: Why the government doesn’t enjoy a super majority in the Seanad like it does in the Dáil>

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