| 9.5°C Dublin

Finance Bill clears first hurdle

The Government has scraped over the first hurdle in its attempts to put Budget 2011 into law.

After securing the support of two independents in a last-minute trade-off, the Finance Bill passed its first vote.

The controversial legislation - the final act of the Government - now looks set to go through the Dail (parliament) and impose crippling tax hikes.

An 11th-hour meeting between Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and two rural independents ensured the Bill's safe passage.

Michael Lowry, Tipperary North TD, and Kerry South TD Jackie Healy-Rae got assurances from the Government on three fronts - a supertax on bankers' bonuses, revised tax relief for parents paying student fees, and the deadline for filing tax returns will not be brought back a month to September 30 as outlined in last Friday's Finance Bill.

The Government had already caved in over a draconian levy, the universal social charge, which will not be imposed on medical card holders.

Yesterday Mr Lowry demanded an immediate general election and warned that both he and Mr Healy-Rae were unlikely to support the Finance Bill.

Their support was vital as Fianna Fail lead a minority Government. The coalition fell apart at the weekend after the Greens withdrew from power but said they were committed to voting in favour of the Finance Bill.

The electronic vote in the Dail revealed the Government won by two votes - 80 in favour and 78 against.

But opposition party Fine Gael called for a "walk through" vote in the Dail to force TDs to openly declare for or against.

The walk through, which is the official record, showed a Government victory by three votes, 80 to 77, after independent Mattie McGrath abstained.

Mr McGrath said he had registered his objection to the Bill in the first vote, but would not go through the "charade" of a walk-through with the Opposition to oppose it for a second time.

"I wasn't going to go up the steps with those lads who were all playing games with people's livelihoods," Mr McGrath said.

"By putting this Bill through, my fears are that there'll be flaws in this Bill, serious flaws if it's not properly debated and discussed."

Debate has now begun on the committee stage of the Bill.

PA Media