Blame game on over disability pay plan

THE blame game is under way between Labour and Fine Gael over who is responsible for the deeply unpopular cuts to disability allowances which have now been put on hold.

Budget plans to abolish the €188-a-week payment for 16 to 18-year-olds and reducing it to €100 a week for 18 to 21-year-olds were “paused” yesterday pending a review.

Following concern from Labour and Fine Gael backbenchers, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil the measure would be reviewed. “This is a case where Government has actually listened to people who have brought out particular circumstances surrounding very sensitive issues,” he said.

It followed a meeting of over 40 Fine Gael TDs to discuss the proposal chaired by Mary Mitchell O’Connor on Tuesday night.

Announcing the cut would be revisited before the Social Welfare Bill goes through the Dáil, Finance Minister Michael Noonan attempted to lay the blame on the shoulders of his Labour Party colleague Joan Burton.

However, the Minister for Social Protection is said to have preferred making employers pay for sick leave as an alternative way of making the savings. Labour sources said the sick pay proposal was dropped at the insistence of Fine Gael, because it had been lobbied by business groups.

Speaking on the traditional post-budget Today with Pat Kenny radio show, Mr Noonan said the issue was “very difficult for families”.

Responding to a question from Stephen O’Riordan, whose sister, Joanne, risked being affected by the cut, Mr Noonan said: “Joan Burton when she sanctioned this did it with the absolute best of intentions. But having looked at it now ... I said last night that we need to revisit this again in the Social Welfare Bill.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One later, Ms Burton said she was initially asked to find savings of €822m in welfare spending but had “whittled that down” to €475m by “vigorous argument with the two finance ministers”.

“I made a strategic decision to concentrate on preserving the core rate of social protection payments,” she said.

Ms Burton said she had listened to parents of severely disabled children of 14 and 15 years of age who feared their children would not get the payment when they turned 16.

“I’ve listened to that and I’ve discussed it with my colleagues and ... the reform is paused.”

She had wanted to force employers to pay the first four weeks of sick leave, which would have saved the exchequer €150m a year. But when this measure was not accepted by Cabinet, savings had to be found in other areas.

Mr Noonan also left open the possibility of revising the Croke Park Agreement in future budgets.

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