Taoiseach backs Labour as FF attacks

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rushed to the defence of his Labour colleagues in Government against what he described as opportunistic attacks from Fianna Fáil over budget cuts.

Mr Kenny said the budget did not belong to any particular party in the Coalition but was about “fixing the mess left behind” by the previous administration.

He was responding to accusations from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that he had tried to “hammer Labour Party backbenchers into submission” on cuts.

Mr Martin referred to reports that Labour ministers had walked out of a pre-budget cabinet meeting, and said “the big question is why did they walk back in again”.

He asked was it “to add tax to lower-paid workers, to cut the child benefit, and to cut the respite grant?”.

Mr Martin said there was “a real sense of betrayal across the land now” because “the Labour Party has broken every single promise it made to the people of Ireland before the election”.

He appealed to the Taoiseach to reverse budget cuts to the respite care grant before the Social Welfare Bill began going through the Dáil last night.

Mr Martin said the “mean-spirited” cut could be reversed by introducing a marginal increase in the universal social charge.

“You seem to want to hammer Labour Party backbenchers into submission here,” he said. “And why? To protect the highest paid in the land?

“You seem determined to suppress dissent, as is witnessed through the ramming through of the welfare bill.”

Mr Kenny said newspaper reports on the pre-budget meeting to which Mr Martin had referred were “very far removed from reality”.

He said: “Your attack on the Labour Party is utterly hypocritical and opportunistic. You are under pressure from your colleagues on the far side of the house and you chose to pick out the Labour Party.”

Mr Kenny said the budget “is not about the Fine Gael party, is not about the Labour Party. It’s about Ireland and its people.”

He said the Government would “stand over” the budget, which protects the “vast majority” of welfare payments.

“It ill behoves you to come in here and attack the Labour Party in particular as if this budget belongs to them,” said Mr Kenny.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the budget was “all about the Labour Party”, which is standing over cuts.

He said ministers were taking home over €3,000 a week. “You have broken your own cap on special advisers. And you refused to look at alternatives.”

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