Tuesday 24 April 2018

Wily Noonan uses faint praise to point the finger at Burton

The U-turn

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

IT was a bad day yesterday for Social Protection Minister Joan Burton -- who found herself carrying out her first Budget U-turn.

There is now going to be a "review" of the decision to cut disability-allowance payments for young people -- and to reduce the age at which they can claim it at.

The view around Leinster House yesterday was that the Government would not risk a further outcry, so the expert review now ongoing will result in toned-down measures which will fall short of the €7m savings target.

Ms Burton was curiously off-key when quizzed about the U-turn yesterday -- but it was little wonder. It had been announced for her in advance by Michael Noonan, who said she had acted with "the absolute best of intentions".

That might sound like praise -- but he was putting the blame firmly on her.

Ms Burton's advisers had been nervous in the run-up to the Budget about the inevitable political fallout from implementing €475m in social-welfare cutbacks.

Mysteriously, details of proposed child-benefit cuts began to leak out well in advance of the Budget from various parts of Government.

Former Fianna Fail minister Willie O'Dea -- who knows well how these things work -- noted yesterday in the Dail that he had spotted Ms Burton around Leinster House a lot before the Budget.

"In recent weeks she has been behaving like a modern-day version of the 1960s character Maxwell Smart, hiding in corridors waiting for a journalist to pass, to say that Labour is stopping Fine Gael doing A, B and C and to make sure to print that Labour did it and that the minister, Deputy Joan Burton, led the charge," he said.

However, Ms Burton never spoke before the Budget about the proposed cuts to disability allowances for younger people.


The opposition to the cut was clear at a special meeting of Fine Gael TDs chaired by Mary Mitchell O'Connor, so a delegation of six TDs -- Joe McHugh, Michael Creed, Damien English, Ray Butler, Simon Harris and Kieran O'Donnell -- made their way to meet Ms Burton at 10pm last Wednesday night.

The hastiness of the meeting could explain why it was held not in her ministerial office, but in the office of Government chief whip Paul Kehoe in Leinster House.

It lasted for an hour as the TDs insisted that the cut had to be halted. Ms Burton had already got the same message from Labour TDs.

There was a feeling among TDs yesterday that she was genuinely trying to prevent young people with mild disabilities from being stuck on social welfare for life. But she forgot that the scale of disability ranges from mild to profound.

It may be possible to justify changes for those who are suffering from mild conditions but those with severe cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy need the extra support to either live their lives at home or to get into further education or the workplace.

Ms Burton can console herself with the thought that if her lobbying against bigger social-welfare cutbacks had not succeeded, she would have been bringing in a €10 cut for all child-benefit payments and much more.

So while this has been a chastening experience, it could have been a lot worse.

Irish Independent

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