Political games by Jim McDaid?

With the success of Pearse Doherty's high court action forcing a by-election on 25 November, and with the resignation on Tuesday of Dr Jim McDaid (pictured), the government's ability to pass the budget on 7 December is under threat. By Alison Spillane.

Jim McDaid's resignation on 2 November was greeted with mild surprise rather than jaw-dropping incredulity. Hardly the most reliable member of government, his departure will nevertheless cause serious discomfort for Fianna Fáil and the Greens as their parliamentary majority (including Independents) is reduced to a paltry three seats (82 to 79).

Should Fianna Fáil fail to secure a seat in the Donegal South-West by-election, this would bring the balance to 82 - 80, just one vote shy of a hung Dáil in December's Budget. Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae have thus far refused to affirm their support for the coalition in the forthcoming budget.

McDaid said 'purely personal reasons' governed his decision to resign , though it is not inconceiveable that self-preservation is at play. In an open letter to the Taoiseach last week, he wrote that a general election "is in the best interests of the country, and the best interests of Fianna Fáil".

By resigning now, Dr McDaid may be trying to distance himself from the incumbent government which, according to a string of opinion polls, will be decimated in the next general election. Getting out before the unveiling of the most vicious budget yet - which will seek €6 billion in cuts and tax increases - might just be enough for McDaid to retain his seat should an election be called.

In the 2007 general election, McDaid was reelected with 17% of the vote despite a highly publicised drink-driving incident in April 2005. From 2002 to 2004 McDaid was a Minister of State in the Department of Transport and in 2002 he led the government's anti-drink driving campaign.

Another possible theory behind the resignation is that the former TD attended a 'Save Donegal Health Services' meeting on Monday evening (see video below). At the meeting, the public strongly voiced their anger with the government over its savage cuts to health services. Dr McDaid is reported to have been "distracted" and "irritable" throughout the evening.

Speaking at the meeting, McDaid said he had "decisions to make" concerning his vote. If public sentiment at the event did make him reconsider his support for government however, it would perhaps have been more productive to retain his seat and instead vote against the budget in December.

Jim McDaid's absentee record was one of the highest in the Dail 's last term; in May 2010 it was revealed that he had missed 4 out of every 5 votes in 2009. In November 2008 he lost the party whip after abstaining in a vote on the cervical cancer vaccination programme.

And in April of this year, he refused to voluntarily give up his ministerial pension of €22,487 claiming a "media witch hunt" was afoot. Yesterday's Irish Times reported that McDaid will get more than €250,000 from the State in the next 12 months, followed by a pension of €75,000 the following year.