Irish government defeats Sinn Féin bid to trigger snap election

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government easily survived a vote of confidence Tuesday night that demonstrated its rising reliance on loose-cannon lawmakers.

Ireland’s three-party coalition enjoyed a five-seat majority in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann when it rose to power two years ago. But a by-election defeat and losses from internal party rows have slashed that margin to zero — a fragility that the main opposition Sinn Féin party hoped to expose with a no-confidence motion.

Losing would have triggered an early election, but the government prevailed in a 85-66 vote aided by support from its own errant lawmakers and from rural independents.

Joining lawmakers from the government parties — Fianna Fáil (36), Fine Gael (33) and the Greens (10) — were two Greens currently suspended for supporting a Sinn Féin motion in May.

Also backing the government were several independents, including a former Fine Gael lawmaker who quit the government benches last week after demanding more taxpayer-funded compensation for owners of crumbling homes built with defective materials.

Before the vote, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald lambasted the government’s management of a long-running housing crisis that, particularly in Dublin, features some of Europe’s highest rents and purchase prices amid inadequate supply.

McDonald — whose party won the most votes in the 2020 election but remained in opposition partly because it didn’t run enough candidates — appealed to independent lawmakers “whose support keeps this weak and ineffective government in power.”

“Will you stand with the workers and families you represent,” she asked the independents, “or will you back a government that consistently lets them down?”

Sinn Féin’s anti-government motion did win support from Ivana Bacik, leader of the Labour Party, who won a 2021 byelection at Fine Gael’s expense.

But Prime Minister Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil) and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) appeared pleased after the vote and vowed that their coalition would last its entire five-year term to early 2025. Under terms of their pact, Varadkar — who last year survived a Sinn Féin bid to force him from office — will swap jobs with Martin this December.

Government ministers took turns accusing Sinn Féin of hypocrisy, pointing to their lackluster record in government in Northern Ireland and their efforts to block several new private housing developments in the Republic of Ireland.

“My God, Deputy McDonald, your arrogance today has gone intergalactic. You’d need NASA’s Webb Telescope to be able to track it,” Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien told the Sinn Féin leader across the chamber.

Recent opinion polls put Sinn Féin on or near 36 percent support — the amount of support for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined.