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Thursday 22 February 2018

Disability cut all Labour's idea, says Varadkar

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

THE coalition spat over who was responsible for the Budget cut in disability payments deepened yesterday, with Fine Gael firmly laying the blame at the door of Labour.

Amid public and backbench anger, the Government last week decided to "pause" a Budget proposal to increase the eligibility age for the disability allowance from 16 to 18 and to reduce the rate for under 25s.

The new rate was to be in line with dole payments for people of the same age, with those between 18 and 21 getting €100 a week and 22- to 24-year-olds getting €144 a week. The current rate is €188 for all claimants.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday dismissed reports that Social Protection Minister Joan Burton warned ministers the cuts would be controversial, and that she was being made a scapegoat.

Mr Varadkar said that "no proposal for social welfare cuts came from any Fine Gael minister. . . they either come from the Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who's Labour, and the Social Welfare Minister, Joan Burton, who's Labour".

He also told RTE Radio that, of all the Budget measures, the disability cut "wasn't thought through properly".

Documents submitted as far back as September by Ms Burton to Mr Howlin as part of the comprehensive spending review, which gave options for Budget cuts, clearly identified the disability payments.

The document review said the move would affect 530 children in 2012, rising to 1,710 from 2014 on, and would "lead to a set of proposals to be presented to the minister in September 2011, with a view to consideration in the context of Budget 2012".

The measures made it into the Budget, until Taoiseach Enda Kenny said they would be "paused" after coalition backbenchers protested.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday insisted Ms Burton "played a blinder" on the Budget. Mr Gilmore also said the Budget was a collective effort, and Labour and Fine Gael both took responsibility for it.

But Mr Varadkar firmly blamed Labour and said it was also Mr Howlin, rather than Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who would have had an oversight over spending cuts.

"The only people putting forward proposals for social welfare cuts were Joan Burton and her department and Brendan Howlin and his department," he said.

There has also been jockeying between Labour and Fine Gael TDs over who should take the credit for the U-turn on disability payments.

Mr Gilmore insisted it was Ms Burton who decided on the U-turn, even though Mr Noonan was the first to say the cut would be looked at again in a post-Budget interview.

Irish Independent

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