Fianna Fail revolt threatens Budget
Plan to cut old-age pension could lead to government collapse on December 7
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is facing a backlash from angry government TDs who last night declared the Budget would not pass if cabinet plans to reduce the old-age pension are introduced, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
With the Government's Dail majority now down to just three and likely to fall to two after the Donegal by-election, and with budget savings of €6bn required, backbenchers and pro-government independents have said any move to cut payments to pensioners will not be tolerated.
The Sunday Independent has learned that two of the independents supporting the Government, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae, are to meet Finance Minister Brian Lenihan later this week to raise their concerns over cuts.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Lowry said: "Last year, I sought and got a commitment that OAPs would be protected. It is my strong view that they should not be cut. But I am not in the business of threatening. I will meet with Mr Lenihan . . . to air my concerns."
Mr Healy Rae also said he would tell Mr Lenihan that he is opposed to cuts affecting carers or pensioners.
According to one senior minister, the Cabinet is deeply fearful of backbench members of their own party "going rogue" faced with budget cuts.
A dozen high-profile TDs contacted by the Sunday Independent this weekend were virtually unanimous in their opposition to any cuts to pensioners.
Dublin North TD Michael Kennedy said yesterday: "Any move to cut or hit the OAPs will cause chaos in the parliamentary party. I have been strong in my views that the pensioners must not be cut and that is still my view."
Dublin South East TD Chris Andrews said plainly: "If there is any hit to the OAPs, then the Budget won't pass. The pensioners and the farmers are the only people still talking to us. To cut them would cause carnage."
Cavan Monaghan TD Margaret Conlon said no one wanted to see cuts to pensioners or welfare recipients, but difficult choices had to be made. "There is a real possibility of the Budget not getting through, but, as a country, we'll have to pass the Budget at some stage," she said.
The Government has signalled its intention to cut the State pension by up to €9 from €219 a week, and plans are also being considered to cut the pension for public sector workers -- in a bid to save almost €1bn.
According to the latest Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll, 61 per cent of people think the opposition should support the budget, saying they want cross-party consensus.
Also a majority of people, 55 per cent, think there will be a general election within the next three months.
Market traders based in London and Europe have this weekend rubbished the Government's plan to reduce the country's debt, saying it is "beyond fantasy".
"Ireland's plan simply isn't credible and hence the interest rate (on government bonds) remains high," said one UK-based trader.
"We don't think it will work and we see the EU or the IMF stepping in. The ever-increasing bank bailout has seriously damaged Lenihan's credibility to the point where many of us think he has none," the trader added.