Mavericks force Cowen to do Budget vote deal
Lowry, Healy-Rae on board with cuts
INDEPENDENT TDs will today support the draconian €6bn Budget after securing last-minute parish-pump promises.
Pledges on local roads, rural hospitals and a number of other pet schemes were the price extracted by Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae.
The passage of Budget 2011 is regarded as vital for the country, with EU chiefs warning of the damage of it not being voted through.
After days of wheeling and dealing, involving Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, Mr Lowry said he was voting for the Budget, with similar signals coming from Mr Healy-Rae.
And in the dying days of the Coalition, Dublin-based ministers will have to give up their automatic right to a State car and one of the three Government jets is to be scrapped.
When Mr Lenihan takes to his feet to deliver his speech at 3.45pm this afternoon, his final Budget will contain a raft of harsh measures, including:
- Tax hikes for low- and middle-income earners.
- Cuts to the dole.
- A reduction in child benefit.
- An increase in family medicine costs.
But both Independents are expected to support today's savage Budget after they forced ministers to support their local demands.
The pledges to the Independents include the €100m Tralee bypass and a new community hospital in Kenmare for Mr Healy-Rae, and the speeding up of consideration for a super-casino in Tipperary for Mr Lowry.
Mr Healy-Rae was also claiming credit last night for an important concession on the €500 increase in the student service charge, which will not now apply to second and subsequent children in college.
Government sources confirmed last night that the increase from €1,500 to €2,000 next year will only apply to the first child in college -- subsequent children in college simultaneously will continue to pay €1,500 a year.
Several sources sought to play down suggestions that the change was due to demands from Mr Healy-Rae and Mr Lowry in return for their votes on the Budget today.
The Green Party is also seeking the credit for the change, with a source saying it was signed off on three weeks ago following a demand from the junior coalition partners.
A spokesman for government chief whip John Curran said the Government was "still confident" it would have 82 TDs voting for the Budget.
And he also said he was confident that rebel Fianna Fail TD Mattie McGrath, who is seeking further clarification from Mr Lenihan, would also back the Budget.
Fine Gael Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton said she had steam coming out of her ears listening to the reports about the "appalling" demands of the two Independents.
Following demands from the Green Party for a cutback on ministerial perks, a car pool will be operated for the Dublin ministers.
The Government currently has a fleet of three aircraft for ministerial transport: the Gulf Stream, the Learjet and the Beech Craft.
One of these jets is to go, but it was not clear which of the planes would be decommissioned, as the Beech Craft has already been out of operation for quite some time.
The Government's reliance on the two Independents to pass the Budget was even making international headlines yesterday.
Fine Gael is insisting it will not support, despite agreeing a €6bn adjustment is necessary next year.
Labour, Sinn Fein and other Independents are all expected to vote against it too, meaning the vote is expected to be on a knife-edge.