Coalition passes test with ease as cuts approved




The Government comfortably survived one of its biggest tests yet, as TDs last night approved the first crucial stages of the coalition’s welfare budget cuts in the Dáil.

The second stage of the Social Welfare Bill was carried by 87 votes to 52, and its amendments will be debated today.

Ahead of the vote, just a handful of coalition TDs appealed to ministers to review or roll back on cuts to the vulnerable and reductions in the respite carers grants. Some Fine Gael TDs called for the 19% grant cut to be abandoned or for carers to be afforded a meeting with ministers.

Cavan-Monaghan’s Sean Conlan called for ministers to meet with carers and for the care grant to be left untouched. He also said the taxation of child benefit should be prioritised rather than the €10 cut for child payments.

Wicklow’s Billy Timmins said a review of carers’ payments was needed so funds for the most vulnerable could be protected.

Mayo’s John O’Mahony said the cut to the grant needed to be looked at when the Finance Bill comes before the Dáil in the New Year.

Labour TDs, while admitting the planned budget cuts were difficult for citizens, defended the measures as being necessary for the economy in the long term.

Cork South West’s Michael McCarthy’s said the budget was “unpleasant, painful but essential”.

But the Labour backbencher said there was a “wind of change” in Ireland and the budget measures were for the next generation even if he lost his seat at the next general election.

Clare’s Michael McNamara said he was disappointed the Government had decided not to hit higher earners with an increase in the universal social charge.

The budget measures were needed to balance the state’s books, he claimed, but it needed to be done in “the fairest way possible”.

Earlier, Fine Gael’s Derek Keating criticised “irresponsible” fathers who were claiming large amounts of social welfare payments. The Dublin Mid-West TD questioned when the state would have to stop paying out for the failings of fathers who had too many children.

He called for a full review of all social welfare payments.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton defended her Bill and said mothers and fathers had told her that they wanted her to get their children out of the homes and back into education, training and work.

She said it was regrettable that an hour-and-a-half had been lost to debating the Bill after fighting among TDs earlier in the day.

She said that, if the country’s finances were not stabilised, the vulnerable and poor would suffer most.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has agreed to set up a special Fine Gael committee to protect future resources for the disabled and vulnerable.

The request was made by senators and TDs at the weekly parliamentary party meeting, at which members raised concerns about the cuts to respite care grants.

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