| 16.9°C Dublin

Last-minute call from EC urged Lowry to vote for Bill

INDEPENDENT TD Michael Lowry got "friendly advice" from a representative of the European Commission that it would be in Ireland's interest to pass the Finance Bill.

Mr Lowry and fellow backbencher Jackie Healy-Rae voted for the measure yesterday after the Government agreed to their demands to impose a "super tax" on bankers' bonuses and push back the tax filing date for the self employed.

But the Irish Independent has learned Mr Lowry had received a phone call yesterday morning, from a representative of the European Commission who gave him "friendly advice" that he would be doing his country a service by voting for the bill.

The Government was extremely worried about the potential damage to the country's reputation if the Finance Bill was voted down -- and the likelihood that Mr Healy-Rae and his flat cap would be lampooned by media across Europe.

But in the initial Dail vote, both Mr Lowry and Mr Healy-Rae backed the Finance Bill designed to implement the Budget changes, giving the Government an 80-77 vote victory over the opposition.

Former Fianna Fail TD Mattie McGrath opposed the bill in the electronic vote but abstained for the official "walk through" vote in the Dail.

He said he would not support the bill until he saw Mr Lenihan actually introduce the ban on bank bonuses.

"He promised me that before and he didn't do it. Once bitten, twice shy," Mr McGrath said.

The 90pc tax on bankers' bonuses had been delayed due to the legal difficulties in imposing it on past bonuses. But it is now expected to be included in the Finance Bill to impact on future bank bonuses only.

The Government also agreed to reverse its decision to bring forward the date for payment of preliminary tax by a month for the self employed.

There was concern that a September 30 deadline would have increased the pressure on small businesses and that farmers would have been unable to pay -- because their single farm payment grants would not have arrived in time.

Mr Lowry also said he had got an "agreement" on tax relief available on third level student fees. But the Department of Finance said the Budget had already provided for parents to get tax relief at the standard rate on all student fees over €2,000.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

"That was announced in the Budget. It's not a Finance Bill change," a spokesman said.

There will be further votes on the Finance Bill in the Dail today so that it can go to the Seanad for discussion for the next two days. Once it is passed into law by Saturday evening, Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to dissolve the Dail and call a general election -- with Friday February 25 the most likely date.

Mr Lowry denied he and Mr Healy-Rae had engaged in "parish pump politics", saying that all of the issues they brought up were national issues. But Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes dismissed it as a publicity stunt by a few Independents who "once bought, had stayed bought".

Fianna Fail TD Ned O'Keeffe, who is retiring from politics, also said the Government had been a victim of Independents.

"I never want to see that again. I never want to see this Government or any Government held to ransom by people like that for petty matters like footpaths, schools and bits of roads," he said.