A number of Government TDs were missing from Dáil votes on emergency legislation on indoor dining, in what appears to have been a protest.
As many as eight Fine Gael TDs missed one vote, leading to concerns that a “mini mutiny” had occurred amid concerns over the legal robustness of the bill.
Five Government TDs remained unaccounted for when the bill finally passed, 74 votes to 68, last night.
While Helen McEntee was paired, the other Fine Gael TDs to miss the first vote were Michael Ring, John Paul Phelan, Alan Farrell, Alan Dillon, Joe Carey, junior minister Peter Burke, and Ciaran Cannon. Mr Farrell later confirmed that he missed the initial vote “in error”, while Mr Carey showed up for a later vote on the issue and Mr Cannon confirmed he was paired.
Three Fianna Fáil TDs absent from the chamber were Willie O’Dea, who later clarified that he was unwell, Marc MacSharry, and John McGuinness, who later said he had been paired.
Mr MacSharry said he was “never going to be around” and had “informed the whip” of this yesterday.
The Government has been accused of seeking to “ram” the legislation through despite major concerns about its legality and fairness being expressed.
Government plans to reopen indoor dining are “imperfect” but better than the only two alternatives, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.
TDs are currently debating new legislation to allow fully vaccinated people, those who have recovered from Covid-19, and accompanied minors to enjoy a drink or a meal indoors from next week.
Defending the legislation, Mr Varadkar said the alternatives to the Government proposal are either to reopen indoor dining without restrictions or to keep the industry closed until there is herd immunity from Covid-19, and there is no guarantee as to when that will happen.
He said the proposed legislation, even in its imperfect state, is a middle path, a safe path, and represents the best opportunity to allow a safe reopening of indoor hospitality.
Referencing the enforcement of the new rules, Mr Varadkar said he is confident the public and the proprietors will regulate themselves without the need for any Garda involvement.
“This isn’t about catching anyone out,” said Mr Varadkar.
Government TD John Paul Phelan said he had “grave reservations” about elements of the bill, particularly in relation to the segregation of certain groups of people from its provisions.
In their contributions, Opposition TDs from several parties were deeply critical of the bill.
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the “shambolic” legislation means the Government’s slogan of us “all being in this together” ends with this bill.
He said the bill has changed everything and will break social solidarity and cause havoc.
“It’s a shambles, it’s reactionary. But, most of all, it is discriminatory. I am deeply uncomfortable with it, I think you are too,” he said to Mr Varadkar.
Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane said he is uncomfortable with what is being proposed by the Government, saying the bill is discriminatory and unfair.
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín called on President Michael D Higgins to refer the bill, once passed by the Oireachtas, to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.