Labour backbenchers round on party leadership

Labour backbenchers rounded on the party’s leader and senior ministers over the long-term damage caused to the party by a series of broken promises.

The parliamentary party met yesterday ahead of the crucial vote on the Social Welfare Bill, with one TD saying the meeting reflected “a sense of bewilderment with how we got into this mess in the first place”.

Angry contributions were directed at the party leader, Eamon Gilmore, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

A number of TDs criticised the damaged caused by a pre-election “every little hurts” poster warning against cuts in child benefit, increases in car tax and a levy on bottles of wine.

All those measures came to pass in last week’s budget and Labour TDs asked yesterday whether the person responsible for the ad campaign was still employed by the party and, if so, why.

The leadership was criticised for the “long-term damage done to the party” by the “big promises” made in the final days of the 2011 election campaign in an effort to prevent a Fine Gael overall majority.

While there is a “sense of resignation” in the party that they have no option but to support the €3.5bn of tax increases and cuts in Budget 2013, they believe the leadership needs to “change the narrative” next year.

One TD said last night he did not like being made a liar by the “reckless politics” of the party’s ministers.

TDs and senators said they were “walked up the garden path” by ministerial promises that the universal social charge would be increased for people earning over €100,000.

Labour ministers were reported to have caved on their demand to increase the payment by 3% for high earners because Fine Gael had demanded cuts to welfare in return.

The main issue of concern to Labour TDs was the €10 cut to child benefit which they think could have been averted if the USC was increased.

One TD explained the predicament of backbenchers, saying while they were ideologically opposed to budget measures, politically they had no option but to support them.

“Your powers are much more subscribed in opposition, if you are in, you can keep fighting on issues,” the TD said, adding that leaving the party would put them in a difficult position regarding party activists in their constituencies and those who canvassed for them.

“We are loyal to our party at the end of the day. Sinn Féin would be no different in our position. Times like this firm you up in your resolve that the battle should be fought from within and not from the opposition benches.”

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