'Inherent unfairness' of cuts drives senator to vote against Bill
LABOUR has lost another member of its parliamentary party after one of its senators resigned the party whip to vote against Budget welfare cuts.
Senator James Heffernan voted against cuts to child-benefit and the respite-care grant, after initially voting for the broad thrust of the social welfare Bill.
Mr Heffernan said his "gut feeling" was that the child-benefit and respite-care grant cuts are wrong, and said Labour has broken its "solemn" pre-election pledges.
His move echoes that of rebel TD Colm Keaveney who last week voted for the wider bill in the Dail, before voting against individual aspects of it.
Mr Heffernan's defection is yet another headache for Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, although two other senators who were wavering – John Whelan and Denis Landy – rowed in behind the Government.
It brings to six the number of people who have left the Labour parliamentary party since the General Election, although Mr Heffernan is the first senator to leave.
He joins Mr Keaveney, former junior health minister Roisin Shortall, former minister Willie Penrose, as well as TDs Patrick Nulty and Tommy Broughan.
Mr Heffernan (33) was seen as a promising young Labour prospect, but he failed to win a Dail seat for the party in Co Limerick at the election, despite being widely tipped.
He then ran for the Seanad and was elected on the agricultural panel on the first count.
He said he made his decision after "much reflection" on the social-welfare bill, and said Labour broke its pre-election promises to protect child benefit.
He also called the child-benefit and respite-care grant cuts inherently unfair.
The group of six Independent senators nominated by the Taoiseach – Fiach Mac Conghail, Martin McAleese, Mary-Ann O'Brien, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Jillian Van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone – also voted against the Government.
However the Coalition last night won a vote on the Bill by 31 votes to 28, and it is certain to pass all stages.
Mr Heffernan said his "gut feeling" was that the cuts are wrong.
"A solemn pledge was made not so long ago, as I was going door to door in Kilfinane, Kilmallock, Bruff and all other towns and villages in Limerick, by my party, that we would not cut child benefit," he said
"That pledge is now broken, and in good conscience I cannot be party to that.
"I promised people in desperate circumstances, hard-working middle-income earners that I would do what I could to make things better for them.
"There is an inherent unfainess in hitting carers and children regardless of their personal financial circumstances.
"Especially when there was a choice to be made, a choice to tax high earners, a temporary solidarity measure. That was decided against.
"I will remain a Labour man and I will commit all my efforts to addressing and reversing what I see as unjust cuts, especially those that are harsh on middle- and lower-income, hard-working families.
"This is not a decision that I take lightly. I have consulted widely on this decision. I don't fly a flag of convenience and I must say that I have the utmost respect for my Seanad colleagues in the Labour Party.
"What I ask is my decision is also respected," he added.