Threat to Budget as O'Dea revolts
Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea has dramatically intervened in Budget negotiations to demand across-the-board social welfare increases for the elderly, disabled and carers.
In a statement aimed more at his own party leadership than Fine Gael, Mr O'Dea spoke of Fianna Fail's "fundamentals", lashed out at plans to give tax cuts to €100,000-a-year earners and warned against a "return to regressive Budgets".
His intervention leaves him out on a limb and the prospect now exists that he may not be able to support the Budget should his demands not be met, or alternatively that he may feel obliged to resign from the Fianna Fail front bench.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail negotiations on the Budget to be revealed on Tuesday week are under way, but Mr O'Dea clearly feels his demand for a €5 rise in the State pension and disability and carer's allowances will not be fully met.
Fianna Fail sources maintain the party is seeking a "social welfare package", with one senior source saying of Fine Gael: "We have told them a fiver is our preference, but there is no agreement yet."
But Mr O'Dea is clearly of the view that his demands will be watered down.
In a pre-emptive strike yesterday, he told the Sunday Independent: "I would find it totally inconceivable that we would have a Budget where the rich were treated more favourably than the poor. Obviously, people earning over €100,000 are going to get a tax cut. So there will have to be something for people left at the back of the queue during the recession.
"That means for pensioners - for over 40pc the pension is their total or main income - an increase is deserved of at least €5 a week to maintain a standard of living.
"Carers for the elderly or ill - they're contributing €4bn in unpaid work to the Exchequer. They deserve an increase of at least €5 to stand still.
"People who are too ill or disabled to work - basic justice and common decency is required to ensure their standard of living isn't further cut."
Yesterday, a Fine Gael source said Mr O'Dea's demands would bring Fianna Fail's total list of welfare increases, tax cuts and spending promises to over €1bn, more than twice what was available.
"Micheal Martin, Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath would seem to be more cautious than their line spokespeople," said the source.
Mr O'Dea hit back, saying: "Fianna Fail fundamentals are and always have been that the benefits of economic growth should be spread equitably. That means no return to regressive Budgets.
"Just because we are supporting a Fine Gael-led Government to provide stability at a time our country is facing great challenges does not mean that we should be forced to accept their ideology. I would find another regressive Budget totally unacceptable."