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Explainer: Why Peter Fitzpatrick ditching Fine Gael could be a headache for the party

The Louth TD departed the parliamentary party last night.

PETER FITZPATRICK’S RESIGNATION from Fine Gael has presented a potential headache for the party’s minority government.

His departure from the parliamentary party makes the passing of legislation a little more complicated and it means the government is more reliant than ever on the support of independents.

With Fitzpatrick now an independent, Fine Gael has 49 TDs in the Dáil, just four more than Fianna Fáil’s 45.

The government also has the support of four Independent Alliance TDs, each of whom are either ministers or ministers of state. 

Former government minister Sean Canney quit the Independent Alliance earlier this year but pledged to continue to support the government on budgetary matters and in confidence votes.  

Independent Ministers Katherine Zappone and Denis Naughten are also on board with the government, bringing its pledged support to 56 TDs.

File Photo Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick has resigned from the party and intends to run in the next election as an independent candidate. End. Fitzpatrick (right) with then Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny ahead of the 2011 general election. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Numbers

The mathematics of all that means that the government has a very tight window with which it can get bills through the Dáil.

There are 157 TDs voting in the Dáil, excluding Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl (Fianna Fail).

If Fianna Fáil abstains from voting in confidence and budgetary matters, as set out in its Confidence and Supply agreement with Fine Gael, that leaves 113 votes remaining – meaning the government needs at least 57 votes to pass legislation. 

That’s one fewer than the number mentioned above. However, the government has also been able to count on the support of a number of other independent TDs with whom it has “informal agreements”.

In the recent confidence vote on Minister Eoghan Murphy for example, independents Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry supported the minister.

On that particular occasion, the government effectively won the vote by 59 votes to 49

PastedImage-63396 The results of the confidence vote in Minister Eoghan Murphy. Source: Oireachtas.ie

The departure of Fitzpatrick therefore makes the voting arithmetic in the Dáil tighter for the government, just one week out from the budget. 

Fitzpatrick told RTÉ News that he would continue to support the government if he was “satisfied that the squeezed middle are helped” and that it was “a fair budget” next week.

Speaking today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party Martin Heydon said there is “no written agreement” with the additional independent TDs who support the government.

He added that he expects Fitzpatrick to join this cohort.

“There is no written agreement with any independents. There is an agreement in principle with a TD who is supporting government and who has issues of concern at times to make contact and raises those concerns with a relevant government line minister,” he said.

It’s an informal agreement that if they have issues of concern they can raise those and this will be no different for Peter Fitzpatrick I’m sure.

Heydon said that Fitzpatrick could raise issues with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe ahead of next week if he wished and added that he expected the budget to pass.

“There are independents who from time to time support government. We had a confidence last week, a very important confidence vote, that we won by a majority of 10 and I expect us to pass the budget with a very clear majority also.”

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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