Worried TDs focus on reversal of €10 cut to child benefit
LABOUR TDs are more concerned about the €10 cut to child benefit than the controversial reduction in the respite care grant, but there is little sign of either move being reversed.
Opinion is hardening within Government on both measures, and the chances of them being changed are dwindling.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has held a string of meetings with Labour and Fine Gael TDs since Wednesday's Budget but she has given no hint she will row back on either cut. Her political advisers also briefed Labour TDs and their staff on the social welfare changes yesterday.
Sources close to Ms Burton say she is determined not to bring in any changes, and ministers, as well as Taoiseach Enda Kenny, have held the line on the cuts.
Mr Kenny is insisting the Budget will be passed and the decisions taken are "in the nation's interest".
It came as around 100 people protested outside Leinster House yesterday, voicing their opposition to the reduction in the annual respite care grant for carers from €1,700 to €1,375.
Independent TD Finian McGrath took a letter from the carer's group to give Ms Burton, and they promised more protests until the cut is reversed.
But Labour backbenchers are sore about the €10 cut in child benefit, since the party specifically promised in last year's general election to maintain the rate.
Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds said he would "love" it if Ms Burton could row back on child benefit, but he acknowledged money would have to found elsewhere for this to happen.
Clare TD Michael McNamara said backbenchers were pressing for Budget changes, while Dublin South-West's Eamonn Maloney told Ms Burton of his worries that the cut would have a huge effect on low-income families.
But when asked if he would vote against the changes in the Dail, Mr Maloney said: "I'm a Labour deputy, I support the Government."
He met Ms Burton yesterday morning with Dublin South-Central TD Michael Conaghan. "She listened and we told her our concerns and she asked questions," Mr Maloney said. "There were no decisions, and we left it on that basis."
Ms Burton defended her changes, and said the Government chose to protect weekly payments to pensioners, the disabled and carers, as well as the dole. Ministers opted to reduce the respite care grant rather than cut the half-rate carer's allowance.
Ms Burton said the cut of almost 20pc brings the respite care grant back down to 2006 levels. She told RTE Radio: "I would like to be able to pay more but the fact is the Government must get the finances of the country and the economy of the country right."
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said he had sympathy for carers, but that the "absolute priority" was to protect the weekly carer's allowance as well as the half-rate carer's allowance.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking at the announcement of 100 new jobs at Nypro Healthcare in Bray, Co Wicklow yesterday, said this Budget was the "toughest" the Government would have to bring in.
"The Budget has been voted through in the Dail. It will be carried through," he said. "Budget 2013 will put us in a position where we will measure up to the targets we have set ourselves."
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein says it will table a motion of no confidence in the Government next week.