Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cabinet ravaged by bitter infighting amid air of 'defeat'

DANIEL McCONNELL and JOHN DRENNAN

BITTER infighting has broken out in the Cabinet over a range of issues amid mounting concern within the Coalition about the performance of several ministers.

Relations between Joan Burton and Phil Hogan are said to be "severely strained" over a long-standing row to move rent supplements to the Department of the Environment, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Senior government sources have said that Ms Burton's long-standing desire to move the payment of rent supplement from her department to Mr Hogan's is being ignored.

"I have made no secret that I would like to see rent allowances transferred to the Department of the Environment and dealt with locally by councils," Ms Burton said.

Behind the scenes, Ms Burton is said to be at her "wit's end" given the continued delays and obfuscation by Mr Hogan and local authority county managers.

"She has met with them on a number of occasions and yet nothing seems to be moving, while Big Phil is all but ignoring her," one senior government source said.

In response, Mr Hogan denied his department was against the move but said it is unlikely that the matter would be brought to finality before 2014.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, he said: "There is agreement at Cabinet on this. However, the implementation and some problems around the technology are to blame."

Within Fine Gael, there is much concern over what some senior party figures have called the "despairing mood and faction fighting" between cabinet ministers.

Several Fine Gael TDs have this weekend expressed real concern about the "demoralised, defeated air" surrounding several ministers, with Mr Hogan and Finance Minister Michael Noonan singled out for mention.

"Phil Hogan made a speech and was greeted by silence when he sat down," one senior Fine Gael TD said. "Then Noonan said he would be looking for €3.5bn in this year's budget and he was greeted with silence too."

"Noonan looked utterly down, all the bounce has gone out of him," said another. "Even from Phil Hogan you could sense the fear and despair. Even the Fine Gael ministers are starting to fight with each other," he added.

A further cause of tension has been the troika's report last week, which said that the pain of austerity must be shared equally and that pay at the top of the civil service should be reviewed -- given that both coalition parties hold differing views on the matter.

The warning by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar that any re-negotiation of the Croke Park deal would have to include compulsory redundancies has been met with a furious response from Labour.

Mr Varadkar has been accused of "raising the ante for no reason" and he has been branded an "egomaniac" by senior Labour party figures.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore sent an email to party members on Friday assuring them that compulsory redundancies are not under consideration. "Labour will make sure that this commitment (not to enforce compulsory redundancies) is met."

However, a defiant Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: "No Government rules out all its options before going into negotiations and redundancies are an option, though one of last resort.

"I understand Labour's position. They represent the public sector unions and they are going to want to get as good a deal for the unions as they can," he added.

Several Fine Gael ministers came to the defence of Mr Varadkar saying that it is insane to think that compulsory redundancies would not form part of any new Croke Park deal.

"Even the troika is making that point," one said.

Sunday Independent

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