This time no one is pulling wool over Burton’s eyes

In the aftermath of last year’s budget, Joan Burton was left exposed by her Cabinet colleagues in the handling of the U-turn on disability cuts.

Having defended the cut during the customary post-budget briefings, Ms Burton later witnessed her colleague, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, telling Prime Time that night that the measure could be “looked at again”.

It was already clear that the cut would be unpopular when Mr Noonan appeared on RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny show the following morning.

When faced with a powerful call from Stephen O’Riordan who was on the verge of tears as he described how the cut would affect his sister, Joanne, Mr Noonan responded in a way that undermined Ms Burton.

“The position here is: Joan Burton — when she sanctioned this — did it with the absolute best of intentions,” he said.

“But having looked at it now, as I said last night we have to revisit this again the social welfare bill which will be going in before Christmas.”

The measure was reversed and Ms Burton apologised. Fine Gael had given the impression that it was rescuing the most vulnerable from the savage cuts of the social protection minister and she was said to have been furious.

This year, Ms Burton was unlikely to allow herself be drawn into any such trap.

Lessons appear to have been learnt from its first budget in office as ministers from both coalition parties stand firmly behind the budget measures — regardless of what department they came from.

And the other ministers know full well that they cannot pull the wool over her eyes.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore learned this when Ms Burton publicly admitted she was surprised and bewildered to have been assigned the Social Protection portfolio, thereby fuelling the public perception that she had been badly treated by Mr Gilmore.

Also, earlier this year she caused headaches for Mr Noonan and the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny when she suggested a deal on Anglo’s bank debt would help sell the fiscal treaty referendum.

This was seen at the time to have been borne out of dissatisfaction of how the Economic Management Council — made up of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Finance and Public Expenditure ministers — had sidelined the rest of the Cabinet in its dealings with the troika.

Politically, she could not have handled this year’s budget any better.

She set down a clear marker weeks in advance that she was not in favour of taking the property tax out of social welfare payments — thereby distancing herself from such a move if it came to pass.

And she was quick to point out yesterday that she had cut €390m from her department, instead of the €500m that was originally expected of her.

And it looks like a clear commitment from her Cabinet colleagues to stand behind the welfare cuts this year will mean that the fiasco surrounding the disability cuts U-turn last year will not be repeated.

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