Cowen faces revolt by TDs if the old-age pension is cut
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen faces a Dail revolt if he attempts to cut or means test the old-age pension.
Mr Cowen yesterday failed to give any assurance that the country's pensioners would be exempt from the forthcoming €3bn in Budget cutbacks.
And former PD TD Noel Grealish -- one of the independent TDs that the Government depends on for its slim voting majority -- last night said he will not support any Budget that includes cuts to the €5bn pension budget.
"I won't support any Budget that cuts the old age pension.
"It's bankers and the people who caused this who should be made to pay, not the elderly people in our society," Mr Grealish told the Irish Independent
Elderly groups expressed horror after Social Welfare Minister Eamon O Cuiv signalled pensions may be cut in the forthcoming Budget.
Mr Cowen is also facing discontent from some of his own backbenchers.
Fianna Fail Cork North Central TD Noel O'Flynn said he will vote against the next Budget if it contained a cut in the old age pension.
"The founding fathers of Fianna Fail have always respected and looked after the old age pensioners and I'm damned if I will support any Budget that will see money being taken off old age pensioners," he said.
Mr O'Flynn said the Government, which has a slim majority of just six votes, could "do the maths" about what would happen if it tried to push through such a cut.
"They can exclude me from that sum. If he (Mr O Cuiv) and his colleagues in his Government want to reduce Fianna Fail's support to zero, then he is going the right road," he said.
Fianna Fail Dublin North TD Michael Kennedy came out against any old-age pension cuts, while rebel Fianna Fail backbencher John McGuinness attacked the handling of the issue by the Government.
"It is not right at this point in the year that old age pensioners must now endure an uncertain period from May to December until the matter is clarified," he said. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny challenged Mr Cowen to personally guarantee the status of old-age pensions after his party's frontbench meeting in Cork yesterday.
"This is a case of where the Government should take away the fear and the concern and the anxiety that thousands of old age pensioners have today because of the statement made by the Minister for Social Protection," he said.
Labour social and family affairs spokeswoman Roisin Shorthall also said the Government's should tackle the "far too favourable" pension arrangements for rich company directors instead.
Mr Cowen said yesterday that it was "absolutely not" the start of a process to soften up pensioners for cutbacks. But he would not give an assurance that their pensions would not be touched.
"You can't do that in the serious situation we're in but be assured -- we will protect the most vulnerable in our society," he said. Last night, Health Minister Mary Harney refused to clarify the matter. "There has been no discussion about the Budget. It is far too early. I am not going to talk about it at all," she said.