Joan Burton ramps up Cabinet tensions with early Budget move
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has launched a pre-emptive strike on Fine Gael in a desperate bid to prevent any further welfare cuts in October's Budget.
Ms Burton has ramped up tensions with her cabinet colleagues by claiming that the bulk of savings must be found in the Department of Health.
In a clear swipe at Health Minister James Reilly, Ms Burton made the bold claim that more than €200m worth of savings found by her department have been used to offset an overrun in the health budget.
She warned that no further cuts could be found in either social welfare or education – two areas under the control of Labour ministers.
"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."
Ms Burton's surprise intervention is being seen as a clear indication of her intentions to succeed Eamon Gilmore as Labour leader.
She made the remarks in the company of Mr Gilmore yesterday as the pair launched the campaign of the party's European election candidate in Dublin, Emer Costello.
Fine Gael sources last night accused Ms Burton of "performing one of her famous solo runs" and said it was far too early to rule out cuts in any department.
"Quite clearly she is trying to save face ahead of what is going to be carnage for Labour at the polls," said a FG minister.
When contacted by the Irish Independent, a government spokesperson said: "The budgetary strategy, once decided, will be based on an all-of-government approach."
Ms Burton's decision to single out the prospect for savings in the Department of Health will ratchet up tensions between her and Dr Reilly.
She said that as a result of her department's achievements, €150m worth of savings were found last year on top of €47m this year.
"The reality in terms of Social Protection is, that we are making and are continuing to make savings as a consequence of getting people back to work. That means there is a very significant easing in terms of the social welfare budget," she said. Last night, government sources played down Ms Burton's comments.
One senior source asked "what will Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan think about Joan's remarks". The source added: "They are the ministers who direct budget decisions and that is well known."
Another senior strategist emphasised that despite Ms Burton's remarks about employment, serious challenges remain in that area.