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Thursday 18 January 2018

No defections as Coalition TDs toe the line in Budget votes

Fiach Kelly and Michael Brennan

FINE Gael and Labour Party TDs last night voted for the controversial social welfare cuts in the first round of Dail votes on the contentious Budget measures.

The Government won the first few votes on the Social Welfare Bill by 87 to 52 – with no defections on the coalition side.

This morning, TDs will be forced to vote on the specific cuts, including the respite care grant and child benefit.

Labour chairman Colm Keaveney voted with the Government but was giving out cryptic signals about his intentions today.

And a Labour senator has emerged as a doubt, as he told the Irish Independent that he would be consulting with his local party members at the weekend.

Senator James Heffernan said he was going to consider how he would vote on the social welfare bill when it came to the Seanad next week.

"The commitments we gave turned out to be false. I don't like to lie to people. I don't like to be called a traitor," he said.

Embattled Labour Party backbenchers are bracing themselves for a voter backlash after breaking key election promises on welfare cuts.

Ahead of voting for cuts to benefits, including child benefit and the respite care grant, Labour Party backbenchers have expressed their unhappiness at the Budget.

The Coalition also comfortably defeated a motion of confidence in the Government.

Labour sources said there were complaints about the harsh cuts in the Budget but no overt criticism of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore or Social Protection Minister Joan Burton.

The most outspoken party member, Labour chairman Mr Keaveney, was described as being "scathing" about the impact of the Budget on working families.


Labour Dublin North TD Brendan Ryan lamented the party's departure from pre-election promises.

Mr Gilmore strongly defended the Budget to Labour TDs and senators, telling them the level of social welfare cuts had been reduced by €150m to €390m.

He also said he had never seen so many taxes on wealth in a Budget.

But there were complaints that Labour was not doing enough to tell the public about the Budget cuts it had prevented.

Several Labour TDs said the mood at the parliamentary party meeting was one of "sad realisation" and "acceptance" that supporting the Budget as it stood was the only viable option.

Labour Cork South West TD Michael McCarthy criticised the opposition as he stood over the social welfare cuts in the bill.

"If that means I am rejected by the people of Cork South West, then so be it," he said.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton are being criticised by Fine Gael TDs in particular.

And some Fine Gael backbenchers are calling for the Croke Park Agreement to be "urgently reviewed" in the wake of one of the harshest Budgets in the State's history.

Mr Noonan has come in for flak from his own party's TDs, who grumbled he ignored policies they suggested to him in advance of the Budget.

TDs had already complained in the lead-up to the Budget that their views were not being taken on board as the €3.5bn package of cuts and taxes was being prepared.

Wicklow TD Simon Harris also complained about the lack of access to ministers around the Budget.

Mr Harris did not name anyone, but it was assumed he was criticising Ms Burton, who has refused to meet Fine Gael TDs over the respite care grant cut.

Irish Independent

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