Saturday 16 December 2017

Burton tells senators rejection of bill will lead to €124m in extra cuts

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton is to warn wavering Labour senators they could be responsible for €124m in extra cuts if they vote against the social welfare bill.

Ms Burton will outline the stark scenario at a briefing for her party's senators before the first vote on the social welfare bill – which gives effect to Budget welfare cuts – later today.

Three party senators – James Heffernan, Denis Landy and John Whelan – are threatening to vote against the bill, mostly because of the €10 cut to child benefit.

If all three voted against the Government, they could help the Seanad defeat the bill. And a number of Independent senators – Taoiseach's nominees and university senators – are expected to vote against the cuts.

It is understood the three Labour senators will decide how to vote after the briefing with Ms Burton.

Ms Burton will outline her concerns at a briefing to all Labour senators, and no special briefing will be given to the three wavering senators.

But the Government has been given a boost with Independent National University of Ireland (NUI) senator Feargal Quinn saying he will back the Budget changes.

Mr Quinn told the Irish Independent he will be "totally supporting the Government".

"If they don't get the economy right, things are going to be a lot more difficult," he said.

The Seanad can only delay the bill by 90 days, when the Dail can then override it. However, Ms Burton's entire Budget estimates – including PRSI changes – are based on the savings starting from January 1.

The Upper House can also reject individual aspects of the bill, such as child benefit, and send them back to the Dail.

But if the entire package is held up by 90 days in the Seanad, sources close to Ms Burton say this will knock her targets for 2013 off by €124m.


Defeat of the bill may maintain child benefit, respite care grant and other payments for the 90 days – but other areas will get hit to make up this gap. Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte and Ms Burton have urged the senators to back the changes.

"There is serious concern that this bill may fall, and have huge financial effects," a source said.

"You'd have to find the €124m somewhere else, and Public Expenditure and Reform would be on to the Department of Social Protection asking where else it would come from."

Ms Burton has also written changes to the One Parent Family Payment – given to parents bringing up children alone – into the social welfare bill.

She is reducing a child's qualifying age for the payment to encourage parents back into the workplace – and this legislation has already been passed and is in force.

However, Ms Burton put a provision in the social welfare bill which defers the change from January to July to give parents a transition period.

"This deferral can only happen if the bill is passed," a source said. "If it doesn't, the legislation already in place means this cohort of lone parents will lose their entitlement from January 1."

The deferral was to allow time for childcare places to become available, and to allow parents get advice from the department on areas like finding a job.

Although the Government is expected to win the Seanad vote, it could be tight. Taking just Fine Gael and Labour senators, the Government has a majority of 31 to 28.

This excludes Paddy Burke, the Fine Gael cathaoirleach of the Seanad, who would use his casting vote in the event of a tie.

While there are doubts over the Labour three, Fine Gael sources say their senators are "rock solid".

However, they also expressed fear some Labour senators could "go missing" as happened when the Government was defeated on a motion on Seanad reform earlier this year.

Irish Independent

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