Fionnan Sheahan

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Burton and Reilly at the centre of tensions

Published 09/10/2013|04:00

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NOTHING is agreed until everything is agreed. And in the case of Budget 2014, nothing is agreed just yet.

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Although large chunks of the Budget are pretty much signed off on, nothing is set in stone, particularly as the health budget is still in a state of flux.

"It's one of the last outstanding issues that has to be sorted. It's not clear what the problem is," a senior government source said.

Barring disaster, child benefit and the old-age pension are safe in the Budget – but a raft of smaller allowances will be hit to make up €300m in social welfare cuts.

After last year's €10 cut to child benefit, the Government "won't be dipping into that pool again".

Pensioners remain the great untouchables, ever since the medical cards for the over 70s fiasco of late 2008. The dole and core social welfare rates will also be maintained.

However, there will be cuts to a raft of other secondary allowances.

Following yesterday's report in the Irish Independent about Joan Burton being told to deliver welfare cuts to secure the €2.5bn coalition deal, tensions were high.

The message was clear: unless major cuts in social welfare are implemented, class sizes, garda numbers and proposed free GP care for children under five will be in the firing line.

The cabinet meeting yesterday was relatively cordial but "the rancour was more at advisers' level" as Labour was raging at Fine Gael's tactics.

Some Labour sources believe the targeting of Ms Burton was sanctioned directly by the Taoiseach.

Labour believes the spotlight being put on Ms Burton was to distract from James Reilly's inability to estimate his spending.

But Fine Gael sources feel Dr Reilly is genuinely trying to get a handle on spending in a very difficult area to estimate, while Ms Burton is deliberately obfuscating on reform.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore are said to be meeting in the coming days to take the heat out of the situation.

Back to business, the Economic Management Council meets tonight to discuss the latest state of deliberations.

Irish Independent

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