Tension as Kenny refuses to clarify election date

Rising tensions between the coalition parties over the date of the election have forced Tánaiste Joan Burton to declare she is “not a quitter” and is confident the Government will run its full term.

Ms Burton held private talks with Enda Kenny yesterday and afterwards denied she and Labour were being “bounced” into going early, after speculation that the Taoiseach is leaning towards a November poll.

Mr Kenny later refused to say if he had reassured her that the election would be next year.

Speculation over Mr Kenny calling a snap election — which Labour opposes — is overshadowing the Government’s final budget, measures for which were discussed by Cabinet yesterday.

Allocations for next week’s budget were given to ministers as part of the maximum €750m spend on services, separate from a tax cuts package to be agreed next week.

Children and elderly people are set to benefit from a suite of measures, the Irish Examiner has learnt.

For elderly people, the Christmas bonus will be restored to at least €115, while the €9 weekly living alone allowance will be beefed up to help older people cope with costs.

Further increases in the household package — which includes electricity, natural gas, and TV licence supports — are also expected.

Children will also be targeted with a long-called for reduction in primary school class sizes due to be announced next week by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

The average primary school pupil-teacher class size ratio is 28-1. This is likely to be cut by one to 27.

The reduction would be introduced from September 2016, costing €6m next year and €18m over a full year.

Health is likely to receive €200m in the budget, €350m will be made available for public sector pay, and funding will also be provided for 500 extra gardaí.

Separately, supplementary budgets for this year will become clearer tomorrow when the Department of Finance’s white paper outlines extra cash this year for health, transport and education among other areas.

Fine Gael election strategists will meet this weekend amid speculation of an early election due to Mr Kenny’s refusal to rule it out.

Ms Burton yesterday denied that she was being “bounced” into an early poll, adding: “We just have lots of work to do and we intend to stay the course. I’ve never been a quitter and I want to stay the course and see the work that we started, really important work, that we actually finish.”

Labour sources confirm her predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, got a “clear understanding” from Mr Kenny that the Coalition would run its full term to 2016.

Labour backbenchers are deeply unhappy with suggestions that this may not be the case, with one TD yesterday threatening not to support another term for the Coalition if an early poll is called.

Kerry TD Arthur Spring said it would be a breach of trust if Mr Kenny called a snap election. “I can’t recommend it to my members in Kerry, unless the Taoiseach keeps his word.”

Cork South Central TD Ciarán Lynch, banking inquiry chair, said: “My view is that when people go to the polls in a general election they vote for a government to serve a full-term.”

Waterford TD Ciara Conway also warned against an early election: “Will people trust us [again] for leaving the job half done?”

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath called on Mr Kenny to clarify if he would call an early poll or not. “People deserve to know now whether the Government intends to call an election after the budget so we can get on with the real business of either governing or having the debate about what kind of Ireland we want,” he said.

Mr Kenny last night pledged at the Dublin Chamber dinner to introduce a “working family payment” in the next government, to supplement on a graduated basis the income of a household and incentivise people to work.

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