Monday 11 December 2017

Rift deepens as Coalition parties play blame game

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

GOVERNMENT tensions continue to mount as Labour and Fine Gael try to blame each other for one of the harshest cuts in the Budget.

But the Government is standing by the 20pc reduction in the respite care grant, which is falling from €1,700 to €1,375.

There is anger in Labour after Fine Gael junior finance minister Brian Hayes said the Government can correct mistakes if it gets something wrong.

He described the respite care grant cut as "drastic", but some Labour ministers felt he was shifting the blame on to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton by saying she would "deal with this".

TDs in both parties are worried the cut could become one of the most contentious of the Budget, but sources close to Ms Burton are insisting it will not change.

Mr Hayes said U-turns can only be made if alternative savings are achieved.

"If that can be found there will be no difficulty, but finding that is the difficulty. I'm sure the Minister for Social Protection will deal with this," he said.

Ms Burton had to appeal to Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin not to undermine her once decisions on social welfare cuts were taken.

Last year, her defence of disability allowance cuts were contradicted by Mr Noonan, leaving her floundering.

The reduction in the respite care grant announced on Wednesday is actually bigger than one initially tabled by Ms Burton.

In a memo seen by the Irish Independent which she sent to Cabinet last week, it was proposed to cut the grant from €1,700 to €1,500.

However, the €200 reduction would only be carried out if the half-rate carer's allowance was abolished for new claimants. But cutting the half-rate allowance did not happen.


Ms Burton anticipated this in her memo, saying the care grant cut would have to be increased to €300 as a result.

But she went even further on Budget day, with the final cut coming it at €325.

The disability sector saw funding reduced by 3.7pc last year, which led to cuts in services, including the level of respite care.

Irish Independent

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