TD quits coalition as pay talks collapse
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night suffered a double blow ahead of next week's crucial Budget after his coalition lost another TD and he failed to agree a public sector pay deal.
Mr Cowen now leads a minority government after former PD Noel Grealish pulled his support for the coalition, the Irish Independent can reveal. The Government is now getting ready to press ahead with €1.3bn in public sector pay cuts next week.
The pay talks collapsed over what union leaders described as the "unpaid-leave debacle".
But Mr Cowen said the unions' proposals did not make up the amount needed.
"Unfortunately, the proposals put to Government do not provide an acceptable alternative to pay cuts," he said.
He spoke as preliminary revenue and expenditure estimates for 2010 published by the Department of Finance yesterday showed just how strapped for cash the Government will be next year.
They show that tax take will fall yet again next year, from an expected €32.5bn this year to just €31.9bn in 2010.
Amid recriminations over the pay talks collapse, both the unions and Government agreed the presentation of the unpaid leave scheme had turned into a PR disaster, but blamed each other.
Despite agreement on a broad reform of the public service, Mr Cowen decided against proceeding with the deal as it didn't make up the necessary savings and the cuts would not be permanent.
"What we now have to proceed with is reductions, by way of a pay cut, to the public service pay and pensions bill," Mr Cowen said.
In a further blow to Mr Cowen, Mr Grealish withdrew his support for the coalition and says he wants a personal deal, like Independent TDs Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry, if he is to continue to back the Government.
The Galway West TD's move follows the official wind-up of the Progressive Democrats.
His departure means the Government could fall if all TDs not formally affiliated to the coalition, including independent Fianna Fail TDs Jimmy Devins, Eamon Scanlon and Jim McDaid, were to vote against the Budget.
It leaves Mr Cowen's coalition on a knife-edge as he is no longer guaranteed a Dail majority, even with the vote of the Ceann Comhairle.
The Government can now only count on 81 votes -- 72 Fianna Fail TDs, six Green TDs, former PD leader Mary Harney and independents Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry.
If Mr Grealish and the three independent Fianna Fail TDs were to vote with the Opposition, the Government would be outnumbered by 83 votes to 81 -- and if it loses a series of votes to implement its Budget on Wednesday night next week, it will lead to an automatic general election.
Mr Grealish sent a letter to the Government Chief Whip Pat Carey last Wednesday night informing him of his position.
He then missed all six votes in the Dail the following day.
Mr Carey last night confirmed he had received the letter from Mr Grealish.
"Myself and the Taoiseach and others are going through the different aspects of it. Obviously we'll be in touch with Deputy Grealish," he told the Irish Independent.
Although the details of Mr Grealish's letter have not been revealed, his demands are believed to include the provision of flood relief schemes after large parts of his Galway West constituency were flooded.
Mr Grealish (43) has also been vocal about the need for a bypass for the traffic-choked town of Claregalway.
He previously had a very strong voting record and had backed the Government in votes in the Dail on Tuesday and Wednesday. This included a tight vote on the order of business on Tuesday which the Government only won by 68 votes to 66. Mr Grealish was not available for comment yesterday.
Mr Cowen must now decide whether to strike a deal with Mr Grealish to secure his support in advance of the Budget -- or else increase the risk of losing the vote and prompting an automatic general election. He is already pushing ahead with controversial plans to cut public sector pay.
It comes as the notice of the official application to wind-up the PDs was recently published in the state journal, 'Iris Oifigiul'.
It is understood Mr Grealish now considers himself no longer bound by the Programme for Government signed up to by his former leader Mary Harney and wants his own deal.
It is the latest departure from Mr Cowen's coalition Government, which has already lost the guaranteed support of independent TD Finian McGrath, former Fianna Fail TD Joe Behan and independent Fianna Fail TDs Eamon Scanlon, Jimmy Devins and Jim McDaid.
There are two remaining seats in the 166-member Dail.
One is vacant due to the election of Fianna Fail's Pat the Cope Gallagher to the European Parliament. The other is held by Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk, who must vote in favour of the Government in the event of a tie.