Irish coalition shaken by double blow

Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:31pm GMT

By Barbara Lewis

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's coalition government avoided a confidence vote by the narrowest of parliamentary margins on Thursday and its defence minister resigned following allegations of perjury.

The double blow underlined the fragility of a government dependent on stability if it is to succeed in lifting the country out of a deep economic recession.

After a vote on legislation linked to a finance bill was tied, the parliamentary speaker stepped in to cast a tie-breaking vote for the first time in nearly two decades.

A defeat would have triggered a confidence vote in the government because the procedural issue was supplementary to the finance bill, a parliamentary spokesman said.

The finance bill is needed to enforce Ireland's budget, whose severe spending cuts to tackle recession have helped to bring about a modest rise in public support for the government, opinion polls have found.

Several members of the government failed to turn up to Thursday's debate, including Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, who late on Thursday resigned.

"I have come to the regrettable conclusion that my continuing in office will only serve to distract from the important and vital work of government in addressing the serious challenges that the country continues to face at this time," he said in a statement.

He has denied allegations he committed perjury, but told RTE News he had made a "bad and stupid mistake" when he gave false information to a journalist last year about a Sinn Fein councillor.   Continued...

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