John Gormley's announcement that he was abandoning electronic voting was a solo run by the Green Party leader which ignored a cabinet decision made just days previously, the Sunday Tribune has learned.
Gormley's decision to scrap the voting machines infuriated a number of Fianna Fáil ministers – notably Martin Cullen and Noel Dempsey who are associated with the decision to introduce e-voting – and is the first serious sign of division between the two government parties.
A spokesman for the government said yesterday that the announcement by minister Gormley was "reflecting a cabinet decision" and noted that the decision was formally welcomed by junior minister Peter Power on radio the following day.
However, while ministers accepted that the e-voting system would have to be abolished, they had agreed to handle the matter in a different manner.
It is understood the cabinet had agreed to refer the decision on the future of the voting machines to an Oireachtas committee. There wasn't any doubt in the cabinet that the committee would recommend that the e-voting system be scrapped, but it was felt that this was the best way to handle it – not least because any decision wouldn't be made until after the local and European elections on 5 June.
There was huge surprise then when Gormley made his announcement at University College Cork and a number of ministers were said to be fuming at its timing.
The Green Party declined to make any comment when contacted on the story but other sources were at pains to stress that any problems caused by Gormley's announcement were "now over".
The belief within Fianna Fáil is that Gormley and the Greens were playing to their own constituency and wanted to send out a clear signal that it had got rid of the much-derided e-voting machines.
However, the Greens were said to be taken aback by the reaction within government that greeted the announcement and moves were quickly made to mend fences. Taoiseach Brian Cowen, while unimpressed by Gormley's move, is believed to be relatively sanguine about the affair.
It is also accepted among Fianna Fáil ministers that while Gormley's announcement may not have been what was agreed, it worked out well – the story being a one-day wonder – and would have been the correct strategy in the first place.
Relations between the two government parties have been extremely good since the coalition was put together two years ago and Fianna Fáil ministers have been impressed with how the Greens have been willing to stand over unpopular and unpalatable decisions. However, Gormley's announcement marks the first major strain in relations at cabinet level and follows tensions between the two parties over government cutbacks at the Equality Authority.
While the Green Party is expected to hold its own in the local elections, there is a concern within Fianna Fáil that the likely hostile reaction government candidates are going to receive at the doorstep in the coming weeks could harden attitudes in the Greens.