News Irish News

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Fears of Lisbon vote backlash behind 'Bord Snip' delay

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

DEEP fear of an angry reaction from campaigners against savage new spending cuts is behind the unwillingness of some Government ministers to publish the Bord Snip report.

The Cabinet is undecided on whether to publish the report amid concerns it will scare voters ahead of the second Lisbon Referendum and fuel the anger of lobby groups.

The report by the Expenditure Review Committee will set out options for €5bn worth of cuts to public spending and efficiencies in Government.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan are still considering the issue of publication, amid differing views within the Cabinet.

And there is a growing sense that Mr Cowen will use the Bord Snip report proposals as an opportunity to reorganise the Government and conduct a ministerial reshuffle. There is renewed speculation that Health Minister Mary Harney could be dumped.

Mr Lenihan will receive the report towards the end of this week, but it is now not expected to be formally discussed by the Cabinet until the end of the month.

The report is unlikely to be made public before the Cabinet signs off on it, so the Government has another three weeks to weigh up the pros and cons.

The advantage in publishing the sensitive document would be showing the public the harsh decisions that need to be made in December's budget.

But there are concerns that the stark report will scare voters ahead of the second Lisbon Treaty referendum and prompt an anti-Government backlash on polling day.

Ministers are also worried about being inundated by a plethora of lobby groups campaigning against cuts in their particular area.

According to Government sources, once the report is published, vested interests will have clear proposals to lobby against to ministers -- whether the Government has any intention to act upon the individual recommendation or not.

"You put yourself under awful pressure. The entire operation of Government gets strangled. And you have Lisbon," a senior source said.

Within Government circles, there is a growing belief the report should be published and that it ultimately will be in the next month.

A possible strategy being examined is for the Government to publish the report, let the group's chairman, Colm McCarthy, explain and defend its contents and for the ministers to simply say that it is part of the budgetary and estimates process. Mr Cowen is believed to be undecided and won't show his hand ahead of the Cabinet meeting on the issue.

Mr Lenihan and the Department of Finance are thought to be keen to publish it so that the public will be aware of the stark choices facing the Government to fix the public finances.

The Cabinet may discuss its position on publication at its meeting tomorrow -- even though Mr Lenihan doesn't actually have the report yet.

Editorial comment

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News