Burton just 'staking her claim' with Budget comments
JOAN Burton was "staking her claim" by ruling out any further cuts in social welfare ahead of October's Budget, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has said.
However, Mr Gilmore declined to back his deputy leader's stance that the bulk of savings must be found in the Department of Health.
Ms Burton heightened tensions with her cabinet colleagues this week after she claimed that there should be no scenario whereby the Budget involves severe cuts in either social welfare or education – two areas under the control of Labour ministers.
And she is believed to have irked Health Minister James Reilly by insisting that €200m worth of savings found in her department have been used to offset an overrun in health spending.
"I think that there will be no requirement for further social welfare cuts, or indeed cuts in the Department of Education spending," Ms Burton said.
"I think the real imperative will be to actually get value for money and reform in relation to the Department of Health and I'm very happy to be contributing really significantly to that," she added.
Senior government sources have insisted this week that Ms Burton's remarks should be seen as an indication of her ambitions to become Labour leader.
"She was talking about the purse strings, it was clear as day that she was sending a warning shot to Gilmore," said one source.
And a senior Labour TD, who asked to remain anonymous, said there is "little doubt" that Ms Burton is looking to succeed Mr Gilmore.
"It is just a case of waiting until after the elections and seeing how the cards will fall for Joan," the source told the Irish Independent.
Mr Gilmore was in Ms Burton's company on Sunday when she launched the pre-emptive strike on Fine Gael five months from Budget Day.
Asked about Ms Burton's comments yesterday, Mr Gilmore told RTE radio that she was merely "staking her claim".
However, he did not back her position that no more savings can be found in Health and Social Welfare.
"Well, first of all, we are in April and the Budget isn't until October. There is nothing unusual or special about any minister, including the Minister for Social Protection who is responsible for 40pc of what we spend, staking her claim," Mr Gilmore said.
Asked about recent disagreements between the coalition partners on water charges, Mr Gilmore insisted that this is just one of a number of issues that have taken time to iron out.
"Most issues that we've had to deal with over the course of the last three years have taken several weeks and sometimes several months to get agreement on," he said.