Lowry in last-minute crunch talks with Lenihan on Budget
Independent TD Michael Lowry has been engaged in last-minute weekend discussions with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan ahead of Tuesday's Budget.
Mr Lowry and his fellow independent, Kerry's Jackie Healy-Rae, are believed to hold the fate of the IMF-dictated measures in their grasp as a result of the increasingly tight Dail arithmetic.
The North Tipperary TD is reported to have secured the minister's agreement that there will be no reduction in any of the payments enjoyed by senior citizens, including the old-age pension, free travel, electricity , telephones and TV licences.
Following the victory of Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty in the Donegal South West by-election, the Government is dependent on the two independents to push its budget through the Dail.
Government hopes that Fine Gael would support the Budget were fading yesterday as opposition to the cuts imposed by the IMF/European team hardened.
On Friday, Fine Gael launched its alternative budget, with a different approach including less direct taxation but an increase in the number of targeted redundancies in the public service.
The Labour Party, which will be voting against the Budget, has suggested lower cuts in public expenditure but proposes that a 48 per cent top rate of tax should be introduced, a measure strongly disputed by Fine Gael.
If the two government- leaning deputies support the Budget, it is expected to be passed by a wafer-thin majority. Fianna Fail sources were hoping that Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright, whose second child is due this month, might not be able to attend the vote, but FG sources say that she and her husband, Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, will both be in the chamber on Tuesday.