Friday 23 February 2018

Gilmore braces for backbench fallout in wake of €2.2bn cuts

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore and the Labour hierarchy are braced for a backbench backlash as the party will today be linked to €2.2bn in spending cuts.

Labour backbenchers are waiting anxiously as Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin becomes the face of austerity -- announcing several measures the party previously promised to oppose.

While basic child benefit payments are likely to remain untouched, an expected rise in third-level registration fees will cause problems, because Education Minister Ruairi Quinn publicly declared during the general election campaign that this would not happen.

Mr Gilmore is using the government jet to fly back from a key meeting in Lithuania to deal with any Budget fallout on Wednesday, while a new document sent to backbenchers attempts to "sell" the need for austerity measures.

It comes as the latest 'Sunday Business Post'/ Red C opinion poll shows support for Labour has slumped below Fianna Fail, which has risen by four points to 18pc. Fianna Fail is now the second largest party in the polls again, while Labour has dropped two points to 15pc.


Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said last night that he was "confident" no other backbenchers would follow Willie Penrose and Tommy Broughan -- who have both left the party in recent weeks over different issues. He has personally spoken to all the Labour backbenchers over the past week.

"Every attempt is being made to ensure that the Budget is fair. I think they'll be satisfied," he said.

There will be a particular focus on how newly elected Labour TDs react to the Budget, with Mr Stagg admitting they were "facing into the unknown".

"This is an experience that they have never had before of being in Government and implementing a Budget," he said.

Labour has got almost every cabinet minister to brief its backbenchers in the run-up to the Budget.

Mr Howlin will again brief party backbenchers at 2pm today -- just 30 minutes before he delivers his Budget speech in the Dail.

And as soon as Finance Minister Michael Noonan outlines his €1.6bn of taxation changes tomorrow, there will be another Labour parliamentary party meeting to head off any problems.

Mr Gilmore had been due to attend the latest two-day meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Lithuania tomorrow.

But to ensure that he does not miss the Budget, Junior Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton will attend on his behalf instead.

Mr Gilmore is going to fly out in the government jet to Lithuania in the early hours of Wednesday morning to attend the final day, and is going to jet back to Dublin by Wednesday evening in time to deal with any fallout from the Budget.

Labour's efforts have included sending briefing material to backbenchers to help them defend the Budget.

It gives a stark picture of "Ireland's harsh economic situation" and uses the example of a household budget to show that the country needs to reduce its costs.

New Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney said that his party was now playing "senior hurling" and was duty-bound to manage the public finances.

"It's not about sitting around sipping cappuccinos. Our priority is that there's going to be jobs for parents to go back to work because employment is the best way out of poverty," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh has launched a billboard advertisement that highlights Labour's pre-election promise not to cut child benefit.

Irish Independent

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