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Fine Gael looks to independent TDs to survive tonight's vote of no confidence in Murphy

The government numbers are tight ahead of tonight’s motion of no confidence in the housing minister.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is facing a motion of no confidence this evening.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is facing a motion of no confidence this evening.
Image: Sam Boal

FINE GAEL WILL have to rely on the support of at least three unaligned Independent TDs in tonight’s vote of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. 

The Social Democrats tabled the motion of no confidence in the minister due to the government’s “failure to solve to the housing crisis”, according to party co-leader Róisín Shortall. 

Due to the make-up of Dáil numbers, Fine Gael has been forced to lobby independent TDs for their support in this evening’s vote. 

Yesterday, former communications minister Denis Naughten TD told TheJournal.ie that he is yet to decide what way he will vote tonight

While there are question marks hanging over other independent TDs today, Fine Gael can rely on Fianna Fáil to abstain from the vote.

The confidence and supply arrangement between the two parties sets out that Fianna Fáil will abstain on crucial votes such as motions of no confidence as well as budget arrangements. 

The numbers

Looking at the numbers, there are 158 TDs. Fianna Fáil will abstain, as will the Ceann Comhairle.

The government needs 57 for a majority. Fine Gael members of government, including members of the Independent Alliance in government, only commands 54.

Fine Gael will have to look to Independents it has reported deals with, such as Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten and its former party member, Peter Fitzpatrick, for support. 

While Enda Kenny, as well as Leo Varadkar, have repeatedly stated that there is no deal between Lowry and Fine Gael, the Tipperary TD consistently supports the government, and is expected to do so today.

Fitzpatrick, a former Fine Gaeler, has also supported his former party members at times.

Yesterday, The Irish Times reported that the Louth TD has indicated he will vote against the government in today’s vote. 

Grealish is another TD that the government will be anxious to sign up.

There is an arrangement between Grealish and the government but this relationship has frayed in recent weeks after controversial comments were made by Grealish in relation to remittances sent to Nigeria and figures the TD highlighted in the Dáil. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has since written to Grealish stating his disappointment in the TD. He later published the letter on the department’s website. 

After the 2016 general election, the Galway West TD agreed to support the government during what he described as the “crucial stage” of Brexit talks. With Brexit off the agenda until the new year, he could potentially be less enthusiastic about supporting this government. 

Independent Michael Fitzmaurice said this morning that he had agreed to enter into a pairing arrangement with Tánaiste Simon Coveney to support Murphy in tonight’s vote.

If any of the independents abstain in tonight’s vote, it reduces the numbers further for government, making matters very tight. Sources have stated that if the vote were tied, Murphy would be forced to resign due to the Dáil not showing confidence in the minister.

While it is the prerogative of the Taoiseach to decide whether to call an election at that point, if a vote of no confidence in one of his ministers prevails, government sources have said it would be difficult for Leo Varadkar to carry on.

However, the idea of a Christmas or New Year election might encourage some independents to back the Fine Gael minister. 

Sinn Fein’s Eoin Ó Broin however states that tonight’s motion, if it were to carry, would and should not precipitate a general election, something some other opposition TDs have echoed.

He states that the government would not need to fall, but the housing minister and the government’s housing policy would merely have to be replaced.

The release of the latest homeless figures by government could influence the outcome of the vote. 

The monthly homeless figures are generally released at the end of every month, usually around the 27th. However, November has been and gone and the figures have yet to be released by the Department of Housing. 

A spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the figures are usually released right at the end of the following month, or occasionally just into the month after, stating that they are likely to be published early this week, either today or tomorrow. 

Previous motion against the minister

Tonight’s motion is not the first motion of no confidence Murphy has faced. 

In September 2018, a motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin was defeated by 59 to 49 votes. There were 29 abstentions on the night. 

Fianna Fáil abstained from the vote, while TDs Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, and Sean Canney voted with the government. TD Michael Harty abstained. 

At the time, Murphy also faced down criticisms from those within his own party, with reports that junior Minister Catherine Byrne was considering abstaining from voting for or against the motion.

This was due to a prospective housing development in her constituency of Inchicore which Byrne had raised her objections to.

However, there is no confusion this time around, with a spokesperson for Byrne stating: 

“As a member of government, Minister Byrne will be voting in support of her colleague Minister Murphy.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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