Cowen culls ministers of state ahead of budget

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has announced a cull of his junior ministers in an attempt to deflect attention from the drastic cuts expected in today’s emergency budget.

On the eve of his government’s make-or-break budget, Mr Cowen said he wanted all 20 junior ministers to resign; 15 posts will be reinstated on April 22.

The early decision separated the issue from the €3.5 billion in levy hikes, tax increases and spending cuts expected from Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s emergency budget today.

Last night, Mr Lenihan said his speech will focus on new taxation, rather than cuts in social welfare and public sector pay.

Major income tax changes will be deferred until next year but the levies will be increased to produce the same effect in the short- term. The childcare supplement is expected to be cut but not abolished.

Mr Lenihan is expected to make a commitment to take billions of euro of bad debts off the books of the banks.

“It is not enough to guarantee these banks or to invest in these banks for a return. These institutions need to be cleaned up,” he said.

Mr Lenihan said whatever the content of the budget, it will also focus on protecting jobs. This will not include the jobs of the junior ministers, who Mr Cowen has decided will all resign on April 21. The next day he will announce 15 new roles.

A statement from Mr Cowen said: “There is a need to restructure the way that government does its business to ensure it is more effective and delivers best value to the taxpayer. Mindful of the pressures on public expenditure at this time, the Taoiseach will re-examine the roles and functions of ministers of state.”

Labour Affairs Minister Billy Kelleher said the junior ministers, who are each paid a salary of €150,000, recognised they had to do their bit and unanimously agreed to the Taoiseach’s request.

Mr Cowen phoned all the junior ministers on Sunday night and summoned them to Government Buildings yesterday morning.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said while the move was welcome, there needed to be a dramatic reduction in the resources for junior ministers’ roles. “What the Taoiseach needs to do is reduce the cost of ministerial offices by cutting the numbers of staff that are employed to do constituency work for ministers and ministers of state no matter who runs the office,” he said.

Last night the Taoiseach’s office also released a joint statement on behalf of the social partners. It said all parties had agreed to return to the table to discuss the fallout from today’s budget.

Mr Cowen will chair a final cabinet meeting this morning before Mr Lenihan goes into the Dáil chamber.


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