Saturday 1 November 2014

Shafted by Kenny: Joan Burton's bad start

Taoiseach would not budge on Jobs, EU post and tax package

DANIEL McCONNELL, 
JOHN DRENNAN and 
FIONNAN SHEAHAN

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and (inset) new Tanaiste Joan Burton
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and (inset) new Tanaiste Joan Burton

Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin had to be called in to defuse a tense stand-off between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste 
Joan Burton during fractious Cabinet reshuffle talks last week, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Coalition sources yesterday confirmed that both finance ministers had to intervene in the row over taxation plans for the Budget in October.

The disclosure comes as Ms Burton is under fire this weekend from a number of unhappy backbench TDs in Labour who are "angered and disappointed" with the lack of a tangible success for the party in last week's negotiations.

Several sources in Fine Gael and Labour have confirmed that the discussions between Mr Kenny and Ms Burton "hit the sand" on Wednesday and required the two finance ministers to step in. "Noonan and Howlin pulled everyone back saying it was not the time to write the Budget," said a senior Government source.

It has also emerged that Mr Kenny deeply angered Ms Burton and many on the Labour side by revealing in the Dail plans to give free GP care to over-70s before the talks had concluded.

Ms Burton had wanted to claim ownership of the plan when the full document was published, but Mr Kenny's unexpected disclosure left 
Labour furious, several sources have said.

"We were pissed off. We hadn't anticipated it coming out before the document was published. And we were anxious that this be identified with the Labour Party," said a senior Labour source.

The tensions were evident when the new Cabinet members assembled prior to presenting themselves to the Dail for the first time.

Yesterday behavioural psychologist and former Oxford professor Dr Peter Collett told the Sunday Independent it was clear from a photo of the event that Ms Burton "will never enjoy" the same "solid working relationship" her predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, had with the Taoiseach.

The strained relationship between the two leaders is likely to be tested again during the Budget negotiations.

The new Coalition plans to reduce the 52pc tax rate on low and middle incomes; introduce a programme of social housing, free GP cards for over-70s; and enhance the household benefits package and review the minimum wage.

In today's Sunday Independent economist Colm McCarthy writes of the Government statement: "This is a pure roll of the dice, highly imprudent."

Mr McCarthy, who is also an adviser to the Banking Inquiry, says that these 
measures "will worsen 
the State finances which this Government was elected to fix."

The failure of Ms Burton to secure either the senior Jobs portfolio or EU Commissioner post, having let it be known she wanted the positions for Labour, has been criticised by Labour TDs this weekend.

"We went through all of that and this is what we got. There are some positives but, Jesus, it is average at best. Far from great," said one TD.

"We didn't get the Commissionership, we didn't even get the top seat in Jobs. This is not good, because it would appear we have gotten very little out of all of this," said another.

It has also emerged that new Communications Minister Alex White was a "last minute" entrant into Cabinet, with his fate only being decided upon on Friday morning.

"The decision to be made was about whether to bring in Alex. He always had a 
shout simply for geographical reasons. But there was a 
consideration to be made there," a senior Labour source said.

It has also emerged that the junior health minister Kathleen Lynch, who had been widely tipped to be in Cabinet, "did not lobby" to be appointed a senior Cabinet minister.

"No lobbying was done on her behalf either. She was strongly in Joan's considerations," said the source.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, is scarcely able to contain its happiness as to how the talks ended up.

One Fine Gael minister told the Sunday Independent: ''There can be no doubt about who won this one. Joan went for Jobs, for the Commissionership and for an extra ministry and got a big fat zero. Labour thought Enda was a nice fellow. Welcome to senior hurling.''

A Government source also said: "The mood was set from the start. The first thing Enda did was to put his foot down on Jobs. Joan was told that the first thing they had to be clear on was that Alan Kelly was not getting Jobs," one Government source said.

The Tanaiste was told: "If Eamon Gilmore or Ms Burton herself asked for the post we would have a discussion, but there will be no talks on Alan Kelly."

It was also made clear from the outset that Mr Kenny would refuse to negotiate on the European Commissioner position to which former Fine Gael Environment Minister Phil Hogan has been appointed.

Fine Gael sources said Mr Kenny made it clear he would not allow the Commissionership be used in a trade-off for another position.

He told Ms Burton: "To say the European Commissionership is heading to Fine Gael would be the understatement of the century'," a senior Government source said.

Sunday Independent

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