The Dáil has passed a non-binding Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to secure full public ownership of the National Maternity Hospital site.

Fifty-six TDs voted in favour, including Green TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello.

Ten TDs opposed, and 69 mostly Government TDs abstained.

The Green Party parliamentary party tonight agreed to a proposal to remove the party whip and suspend Deputy Patrick Costello and Deputy Neasa Hourigan from the parliamentary party for six months.

The decision was made after they failed to vote with the Government on a private members motion. There was consensus on the decision.

In a statement the parliamentary party said it regrets having to take this step but "believes our effectiveness in Government relies on unity in every vote".

Both deputies will have an opportunity to apply for readmission at the end of this six month period.

Mr Costello said tonight he could not in good conscience vote against the Sinn Féin motion and would accept the sanctions imposed by his party.

He said the motion reflected his concerns and the concerns of many.

The Dublin South-Central TD said he knew his actions were frustrating for "our Government partners".

Speaking in the Dáil earlier, Mr Boyd Barrett said the Government's plan was "an insult to the women in Ireland" who had suffered in Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. He contended it also showed "scant regard" for separating Church from State.

In reply, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said "there is no church involvement" in what will be a new secular hospital, and he said there is full public ownership via a 299-year lease.

Last night in the Dáil, Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane introduced a motion seeking to oblige the Government to re-engage with the St Vincent's Healthcare Group in order to secure the site at Elm Park for State ownership.

There was a debate, but it appeared likely there would be no vote tonight on the topic, because the Cabinet decided not to put down a counter motion on the basis that ministers had already given the green light to the project.

However, just as the debate was about to close, Rural Independent TD Mattie McGrath called for a vote.

The Rural Independent Group sought support from other TDs to trigger the vote in the Dáil.

The group is demanding that it is built as a matter of urgency on the St Vincent's site.


Serenity in Leinster House amid hopes of short break-up

It was strangely serene around Leinster House this evening.

There was not a trace of the febrile atmosphere that sometimes accompany departures from the Government benches.

Some in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael privately whispered that the "turf" crisis of just a few weeks ago was "more serious".

They contended that was a moment when a dozen or more TDs were contemplating shunning the Coalition's embrace.

Even as Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan defied Government orders and voted in favour of a Sinn Féin motion, some felt it was all " still pretty harmless".

There was a strong sense too that these two TDs were always going to exit the fold at some point in the life of this Government.

And there were those soothing words from the TDs in the lead up to the Dáil vote which suggested this would be a short break-up rather than an acrimonious divorce from Government.

Indeed just prior to the key vote of the night, Deputies Hourigan and Costello had backed the Government in the passage of 'Sick Leave' legislation.

But the political reality tonight that the Coalition is weaker as its nailed-down majority has been shaved to the bare bones.

Yes it can rely on four or five Independent TDs to lend support but this has a tendency to evaporate when a crisis emerges.

The two bigger parties will also watch closely to see what punishment will be meted out to the two Green Party TDs.

Officially that is solely a matter for the Greens but Coalition colleagues will want it carry enough sting to quell any notion that such acts could become an acceptable norm.


With Green Party TDs Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan losing the party whip, it reduces the Government's Dáil numbers to 80, while the combined Opposition would then stand at 79 TDs.

However, many Independent TDs often vote with the Government.

When the Government was formed it had the support of 84 TDs, but Fine Gael's Eoghan Murphy has since left politics and Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry has severed links with Fianna Fáil.

In the Dáil earlier, the Sinn Féin leader again called on Government to secure the full ownership of the land for the new National Maternity Hospital.

Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of sowing distrust and unease about the plan.

She called on the Government to act on the Sinn Féin Dáil motion calling for public ownership of the land on which the new hospital will be built.

The Taoiseach again insisted that a 300-year lease is effectively ownership of the land.

"There is no issue with ownership and the State's interest is guaranteed," Micheál Martin said.

He said legitimate concerns were raised and there are now cast-iron legal guarantees that all services will be provided at the hospital.

"Genuinely we do need to commence the construction phase of the hospital," he said.

The Taoiseach said he understood the politics of the Sinn Féin motion and the need to keep Government under pressure.

'A lot of myths and misinformation' - Tánaiste

Earlier, the Tánaiste said that if a Fine Gael TD were to vote against the Government on tonight's Sinn Féin motion then they would lose the party whip, and that it is up to the Green Party to make a decision in relation to how its TDs vote.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne programme, Leo Varadkar said that if all TDs voted freely, then there would not be a functioning Government.

"Governments have majorities, and in order to get things through we act collectively … if we all voted freely on these matters then we wouldn't have a functioning Government," he said, adding that "on occasion" people will feel they cannot vote alongside the party.

The Tánaiste said there were "a lot of myths and misinformation" around the project that were able to be dispelled during the two-week delay in confirming the hospital would proceed, namely a clear definition to the term "clinically appropriate".

Mr Varadkar said he understood people’s concerns around ownership of the land and defended the 299-year lease as ownership.

"The perfect can be the enemy of the very, very good. This is a very, very good arrangement. We do own the hospital, we own the bricks and mortar and we have a 300-year leasehold title to the land, and that is ownership," he said.

The Tánaiste said he also understood people's concerns given the country's history with institutional abuse and the church's influence over healthcare.

Mr Varadkar said what was happening was two hospitals - Holles Street and St Vincent's - that are currently under Catholic influence are being secularised.

"You would have the impression from some people, that the hospital as being gifted to the nuns. That is just fake news," he said.

Additional reporting Paul Cunningham