Ahern laughs off FF party dissent

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern yesterday laughed off the flood of dissent within Fianna Fáil as Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy told backbenchers there was no extra money in the Budget for community employment schemes.

Despite Government policies coming under attack on numerous fronts from his party's backbenchers, Mr Ahern was in jovial form all day as he dismissed suggestions the Government was coming apart.

Amid continued unease in Fianna Fáil over the Government's support for EU regulations on stem cell research, and ongoing internal criticism of the failure to reverse cutbacks in Community Employment (CE) schemes, Mr Ahern treated questions from opposition leaders flippantly. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that with ministers, junior ministers and FF TDs coming out against Government policies, the public appeared to be witnessing the disintegration of the Coalition. Labour leader Pat Rabbitte asked what exactly was going on in Fianna Fáil and wondered whether the continuous revolts were a challenge against the Taoiseach's leadership, before taking a cut at the Tánaiste.

"The pit bull terrier of the PDs has become a sleepy collie on the porch who can no longer distinguish between the milkman and a burglar," Mr Rabbitte said. Mr Ahern also told Dáil Éireann that former Minister of State Noel Treacy was acting on behalf of the Government when he agreed to a

16 billion EU proposal for a broad 'human genomes' programme, including 1.1bn in controversial funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Also yesterday, Mr McCreevy ruled out any extra funding for CE schemes in next week's budget. Mr McCreevy met FF parliamentary party chairman Seamus Kirk, Chief Whip Mary Hanafin and Deputy Chief Whip Billy Kelliher to be briefed on views expressed by TDs and senators at a party meeting on Tuesday night, when Mr McCreevy was at an EU Finance Ministers meeting. The parliamentary party had overwhelmingly called for more CE scheme places. But Mr McCreevy told his party colleagues the allocation of 351m in the allocation of 351m in the spending estimates will not be changed or topped up in next Wednesday's budget.

Yet, as Fianna Fáil was accused of blatant hypocrisy by the opposition, Labour Affairs Minister Frank Fahey, responsible for CE schemes, said the Government must consider the views of the FF party and he was satisfied it was going to happen despite Mr McCreevy's stance.

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