Fine Gael has gone to war with the other main opposition party last night after Labor’s Eamon Gilmore tripped up Enda Kenny and gave Tanaiste Mary Coughlan a free pass to take part in a jobs mission to the U.S., the Irish Independent reports.
The escalation in tensions between the main opposition parties follows opinion polls showing Labor challenging Fine Gael to lead the next government.
An increasingly desperate Fine Gael last night said the move showed Gilmore would go into government with Fianna Fail after the next election -- a charge angrily rejected by Labor.
Fine Gael had effectively blocked Coughlan's jobs and education mission to the U.S. by refusing to match her with one of its TDs for Dail votes.
Kenny said Coughlan, the Education Minister, should have been in the Dail for ministerial questions on Wednesday when Fine Gael hoped to quiz her on the FAS spending scandal.
But Labor heaped embarrassment on Kenny by providing Coughlan with a Dail voting “pair,” and the minister will fly to Chicago this afternoon to join up with the Enterprise Ireland officials on the jobs mission.
Pairings are usually given when ministers are away on official business. It means an opposition TD will not vote in the Dail to allow for the missing minister.
Fine Gael dug in on its new strategy of being stricter on pairs -- and was last night threatening three further jobs missions to major international markets.
A spokesman for Kenny said pairs would only be given when ministers travel for EU business, for meetings with their counterparts in Northern Ireland and if they have long-term illnesses.
"No more pairs," the spokesman said. "They'll have to adjust to the new reality."
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe is to write to Fine Gael today demanding the party allow him travel to the key markets of the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil in the next two months.
O'Keeffe's trips have been organized in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.
"I consider it prudent in the strategic interest of the country to request pairs as early as possible so that the trade missions can go ahead as planned," O'Keeffe said last night.
Labor's education spokesman Ruairi Quinn, who volunteered to provide the pair pulled by Kenny, said the Fine Gael move was a bad judgment call.
He added that, as a former cabinet member, he knew how valuable a minister spearheading a trade mission could be.
"A minister, and in this case a deputy prime minister, opens doors and attracts attention," Quinn said.