Tuesday 28 March 2017

Fine Gael fears being outgunned by Labour

FG TDs say coalition partner has 'taken over by stealth' to call shots

John Drennan and Daniel McConnell

THERE is growing alarm in Fine Gael that even though Enda Kenny is Taoiseach and Michael Noonan is Minister for Finance it's the Labour Party which is running the country.

As Mr Noonan prepares to deliver the first budget speech by a Fine Gael Finance Minister for a quarter of a century, he is facing a revolt from up to 30 backbench -- mostly newly elected -- Fine Gael TDs and senators over his proposals to increase the top rate of VAT by two per cent.

In Limerick yesterday, Mr Kenny defended the proposed VAT hike and said the rate of 23 per cent, if it is approved by Cabinet, will not apply to food, children's clothing or services.

Mr Kenny said the Government has tough choices to make and he wants to stick to his promise not to increase income tax. But it is believed TDs are planning to raise the issue "in some force'' at next week's parliamentary party meeting.

"Labour has taken over by stealth, there is no John Bruton-style figure in the Cabinet" said one disgruntled Fine Gael backbencher. Another source added that the party was in serious peril of ending up "like Garret FitzGerald in 1982 where Fine Gael identified what had to be done and then did nothing because Dick Spring wouldn't let him".

Particular concern was raised over the spectre that Fine Gael was being outgunned within the all-powerful Cabinet Economic Management Council, which decides all economic matters.

TDs increasingly believe that in Brendan Howlin and Eamon Gilmore "Labour has two strong ideological agenda-driven ministers who have a far bigger agenda than merely being ministers".

In contrast, the view is growing within Fine Gael that "Michael and Enda are more mature, they are simply happy to be there".

Another source said "Labour may have lost the war with Frankfurt but back here it's definitely a case of Labour's way rather than FG's way".

Heightened concerns within Fine Gael have emerged as Mr Kenny and his ministers were described as "glove puppets" of senior civil servants.

The two per cent VAT hike will kill small businesses throughout the country, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, said yesterday.

Thousands of small businesses are also reeling from the news that employers will have to pay sick pay; yet in contrast up to 8,000 mainly middle and senior public sector staff are to share a pensions bonanza of €600m of taxpayers' money by retiring by next February. Mr McGuinness said the horrific measures are all being introduced to "protect the cosy arrangement of Croke Park".

He blasted: "Social Partnership is alive and well and killing the real economy."

State employees will earn an average of €75,000 each in enhanced pension terms for retiring before the deadline of next February. All those retiring will receive pensions based on their salary levels before any of the pay cuts inflicted since 2008 took effect.

Mr McGuinness said: "The senior civil service are running this country and they are killing it. Brendan Howlin's reform document was nothing more than a ball of smoke put into words. Then they go and hit the private sector with the double killer blow."

Mr McGuinness went so far as to say Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's proposal to make employers pay for workers' sick leave will close down small businesses up and down the country.

Sunday Independent

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