Finance Bill passes final hurdle

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the Bill was an essential element of the recovery package agreed for the State.

The Finance Bill has passed all stages in the Seanad and will now go to the President to be signed into law.

The Bill was passed by 30 votes to 20, just before 7pm

The Dáil will not be recalled tonight, as no changes were recommended by the Upper House.

The Finance Bill gives legal effect to the cuts imposed in the Budget.

The move clears the way for beleaguered Taoiseach Brian Cowen to announce the dissolution of the Dail on Tuesday.

Mr Cowen will also confirm the date for a General Election to be held in four weeks’ time, with competing parties already bitterly divided over the €85bn bail-out agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU).

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the Bill was an essential element of the recovery package agreed for the State.

But he attacked his former coalition partners, the Greens, whose decision to pull out of government had forced Fianna Fáil, to cobble together an agreement for the rapid passage of the legislation over the last week.

“Normally I would spend a week going through the Finance Bill when the officials had the necessary draft ready for me,” he said.

“This year I was given a day.

“The country needed continuity of government in these few months. It didn’t get it.

“And those who are responsible for not giving it will have to take the judgment of history on it.”

Mr Lenihan rounded on the Labour Party and Sinn Féin and said their respective challenges to the Government's strategy did not stand up to scrutiny.

The passing of the Bill comes a week after Taoiseach Mr Cowen dramatically announced that he was to step down as Fianna Fáil leader.

The escalating crisis around the economy and his party’s record in Government fuelled dire predictions of unprecedented losses for Fianna Fáil when the poll, expected to be on February 25, is held.

Over the last seven days he was replaced as party leader by his former cabinet colleague Micheál Martin.

Opinion polls due out tomorrow suggest Fianna Fáil may have subsequently steadied its level of support which had languished at 14%. But even the latest predictions, which place the party at a 2% higher level, still indicate it is on track for major losses.

The Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post newspaper reportedly pointed to 33% support for Fine Gael, keeping it on track to lead the next government, with Labour support remaining at 21%, the Green Party dropping two to 2%, Sinn Féin dropping one to 13%, with Independents and Others increased by 3% to hit 15%.

A second poll by Millward Brown Lansdowne for the Sunday Independent is said to almost match the Red C results, though Labour are placed three points higher and Sinn Féin are seen to drop three points in the second survey.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen, who retained the role of Taoiseach to oversee the final days of the Dáil, is poised to announce whether or not he will retire.

He said he would spend the weekend discussing his future plans with family and advisers. But Mr Cowen said he wanted to address the Dáil before calling the election.

“It will give me the opportunity to say some things before we do that,” he said.

“It’s really a question of using the Dáil as the appropriate forum for that announcement.”

Fine Gael today repeated its intention to change aspects of the current Government’s economic plan if it is elected.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín O Caoláin, whose party has been criticised by political rivals for recommending withdrawal from the IMF/EU bailout deal, attacked the Government’s plans.

“We have had much scaremongering this week from all the other parties about Sinn Féin’s finance policy but the fact is that our policy is the only one that protects the Irish people from the massive debt of the banks while also protecting low and average income earners from cutbacks and extra taxes,” he said.

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