Top Labour figures clash over budget measures

Senior Labour figures have clashed over the introduction of harsh budget measures as coalition partners Fine Gael look set to stand over the cuts being voted on this week.

One Labour minister seemed to dismiss party TDs’ concerns yesterday, insisting that members had been warned of the tough measures ahead. However, calls for a row-back on measures affecting children continued last night.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he would force Dáil votes this week on all the budget measures his party deemed unfair.

This would present a “simple test” for the Labour and Fine Gael TDs who had been publicly wrestling with their consciences, said Mr Martin.

“Gradually the penny has begun to drop with Government TDs that they share joint responsibility for this awful budget and they have queued up to go on media to wrestle with their consciences. Within the Labour Party in particular, there has been an unedifying parade of representatives muttering darkly about the need for ‘processes’ and ‘consultation’ to change a budget they initially rushed to welcome.”

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte insisted Labour backbenchers had known well in advance how tough the Government’s budget would need to be.

Future budgets would be easier on citizens, he said, adding: “The budget may be a bitter pill to swallow, but they accept that if we’re going to get this economy back on the road to recovery, unpalatable things had to be done.”

Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney took the opposite view and called for alternative measures, ahead of party members having to vote on the Social Welfare Bill this week.

Speaking at a meeting with constituents in Galway East, he backed calls by union leaders for measures curtailing high-earning pensions to be fast-tracked.

He also said it should be possible to tax child benefit rather than apply crude cuts. This would generate almost three times the amount of revenue for the Government, said Mr Keaveney.

“It is my hope that the Government will reconsider some of the budgetary measures, having reflected on the reaction of both the body politic and the wider public to what has been announced.”

Labour MEP Nessa Childers also said she did not see how her party could stay in power without the programme for government being renegotiated.

Coalition partners Fine Gael look set to support all the €3.5bn in savings and cuts. Party chief whip Paul Kehoe last night told the Irish Examiner that no party member had warned about jumping ship during this week’s votes.

Some Fine Gael TDs from the party had expressed disquiet, but he said: “I’ve spoken to party members in the last couple of days. There’s a lot of issues but there will be no changes. We’re sticking hard and fast to it.”


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