independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Government says 'no U-turn' on harshest cutbacks

HARSH cuts to child benefit and the respite grant for carers will be pushed through this week despite increasing tensions between government ministers and backbenchers.

The €10 cut in child benefit and the €325 cut to the respite care grant is contained in the Social Welfare Bill due to be published today – and scheduled to be voted through the Dail this week.

Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers have been lobbying against both cuts on the grounds that they will have a damaging effect on vulnerable families.

But the Government has been adamant that there will be no changes to the Budget, with Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, pictured, declaring there will be "no U-turn".

Government sources said that there could be no "unpicking" of any single Budget measure in isolation because this would lead to the whole package falling apart.

A spokesman for Mr Kenny said there would be full implementation of the "tough but necessary" Budget.

So far, no Labour TD has threatened privately or publicly that they are not going to support the Social Welfare Bill.

But Labour party chairman Colm Keaveney said that, despite the position of government ministers, the €10 child benefit cut was still "up for grabs" and that aspects of the Budget were "regressive" for low-income families.

"A lot of TDs will have more crystallised views after going back to their constituencies. It's about the mother and child. People are struggling to get through this," he said.

Labour Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan said that she had been told by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton that there could be no "unpicking" of the Budget.

She complained that there were only two women – Ms Burton and Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald – in the Cabinet that had decided on the child benefit cut.

"If 50pc of the Cabinet were women, it might have been different," she said.

Fine Gael Dublin Mid-West TD Derek Keating said backbenchers had serious concerns about the impact of the Budget on vulnerable people. He said they were looking for alternatives but it was very difficult.

Coalition relations have been seriously strained by the pre-Budget row which saw Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore lead a walk-out of Labour ministers.

This was due to Fine Gael's demand for a 3pc cut in social welfare in response to Labour's demand for a 3pc rise in the Universal Social Charge for workers on over €100,000.

Tensions

A government spokesman insisted yesterday that Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore still had a very strong relationship.

But in another sign of tensions, Labour Senator John Whelan was attacked by Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan for describing the Cabinet as "grey-haired old men who are detached from the lives of working families".

Mr Flanagan said on Twitter that it was "crass hypocrisy" for Mr Whelan to attack Mr Gilmore and called on him to leave Labour "with the same speed and vigour he left Fianna Fail".

Mr Whelan hit back by saying that he had never been a member of Fianna Fail – and criticised Mr Flanagan's "nasty comments".

Irish Independent

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