Joan Burton says Labour brings balance to Fine Gael in coalition

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said her party is needed to bring “balance and focus” to government. 

It follows comments made by her Labour colleague Brendan Howlin who warned a Fine Gael government would introduce Tory-style changes to legislation if left without the watch of Labour.

Reacting, Ms Burton admitted that both parties “have different traditions and backgrounds” adding that Labour has a “unique input” in government which brings a balance to how the benefits of the recovery are shared out.

But Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming said the Labour party’s new-found concern for public services is too little, too late.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Howlin warned that without the “balancing effect” of Labour, Fine Gael could introduce changes to legislation similar to what is now happening in the UK.

“The Lib Dems are now out of government and in the first year of the Tories having a single-party government, they have introduced draconian trade union legislation and they have produced taxation measures that certainly inflict the greatest harm on the weaker,” Mr Howlin told the Sunday Business Post.

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

But while acknowledging the different policy backgrounds Labour and Fine Gael come from, Ms Burton yesterday said the coalition had worked together over the past five years.

“While we have different traditions and backgrounds, we have a huge common shared programme which we worked on for the betterment of the country and that’s the way it will continue if this government is elected.

“Obviously we both bring different emphasis to the table but it is in the context of a very strong shared programme over the last five years and we can do that again over the next five years.”

She added that nearly all ministers had given interviews in recent months and said “as Brendan did in his interview, that the emphasis is on getting this government elected because it’s good for the country and it will get more people back to work”.

“But also then emphasising Labour’s unique input into government, which is to bring balance and focus, particularly around employment and around sharing the benefits of the recovery out to everybody,” the Tánaiste said.

Mr Fleming said it was ironic that the Labour party are taking about the importance of protecting public service given that they had spent the last five years in Government eroding frontline services.

“The Labour Party has worked closely with Fine Gael to close schools, Garda stations and cutback on community healthcare services,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming
Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming

“They also oversaw a reduction in local services such as the closure of post offices which has left many towns and villages struggling to survive.

"The Labour Party also worked with Fine Gael to cut back on hospital services which has resulted in chaos in our Emergency Departments.”

Ms Burton also defended her record on providing housing and helping those on rent allowance after Fr Peter McVerry hit out at the Tánaiste for refusing to increase rent allowance thresholds.

But speaking at Ireland’s International Creative Expo at the RDS yesterday Ms Burton said: “We are proving homes and funding homes for 65,000 people roughly at the moment through the Department of Social Protection and rent allowance.

“We now review rent allowance on a one-to-one basis.”

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