Two Green Party TDs have voted against the Government to support a Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil calling for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to be built on public land.
The remainder of Government TDs abstained on the motion which called for “full public ownership” of the hospital site.
The motion was passed this evening with 56 TDs in favour, 10 opposed and 69 Government TDs abstaining.
Green TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello had signalled in advance that they would vote in favour of the opposition party's motion, going against the party whip and raising the prospect of their being disciplined or expelled.
Mr Costello later said he could “not in good conscience” vote with the Government.
“I know this is frustrating for our government partners but the issue of the National Maternity Hospital has been incredibly frustrating, confusing and challenging for many and this motion reflected my own concerns and the concerns of many,” he said in a statement.
“I could not in good conscience vote against it. I know breaking the whip is a serious issue and as I have said earlier I will accept the sanctions imposed from my action.
“I understand my Green Party colleagues are meeting tonight and will decide on the appropriate sanction for my vote. Thank you to my supporters but mainly thank you to the many campaigners and advocates on the issue.”
The Green Party will meet after the vote to consider what disciplinary action will be taken against the two TDs.
Well-placed Green sources have told the Irish Examiner that expulsion is unlikely, although both TDs could lose the whip.
If this occurs, it will reduce the coalition Government’s support in the Dail to 80 TDs against 79 opposition TDs.
Wednesday’s vote, which needed the backing of 10 TDs to go ahead, was ensured after Rural Independent TDs and the People Before Profit-Solidarity group confirmed their support.
The Rural Independent Group said it opposed the Sinn Féin motion and wanted the NMH project to go ahead as soon as possible.
The six-strong group is spearheaded by Tipperary Independent Mattie McGrath, who said the reason he was pushing for a vote was because the Sinn Féin motion is “unnecessary”.
The Cabinet approved the ownership and governance plans for the co-location of the NMH on Tuesday after two weeks of debate over the legal documents, as well as several Oireachtas Health Committee appearances.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier on Wednesday accused the Government of sowing “confusion, distrust and unease” about its NMH plan, while independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae accused the Taoiseach Micheál Martin of being the “laughing stock of the country”.
During leaders’ questions, Mr Martin gave little clue as to how the Government parties would respond to the motion.
“I understand the politics of the motion,” Mr Martin told Ms McDonald. “I’ve been around now to understand members’ motions, the motivation behind them, the need to keep Government under pressure.
“I understand that fully. We will deal with the motion in the manner that we see fit as a Government, just as you, equally, would put forward motions with an agenda behind them.
“We didn’t all come down in the last cloud.
“What struck me is the attempts to sort of reverse the truth, to sort of rename the truth, and make a declaration which you’ve been consistently making and hoping it becomes the truth, ie that 300 years of a lease at €10 a year is somehow not ownership. It is ownership.”