Saturday 17 March 2018

Apple fallout: Fine Gael ministers fear Budget will not pass

Independent Alliance brand FG 'liars' as Government threatens to dissolve

Showboating: Shane Ross on The Late Late Show
Showboating: Shane Ross on The Late Late Show
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael ministers are now seriously concerned the Government will not be able to pass October's Budget following a week of drama over the EU Commission's €13bn tax judgment against US tech firm Apple.

Senior Cabinet ministers are incensed with their Independent Alliance colleagues Shane Ross and Finian McGrath and are now openly talking about the prospect of bringing down the Government.

Despite eventually reaching a deal on the Apple tax controversy, there is still bad blood between Fine Gael and the Alliance over the embarrassing spat that made international headlines.

Last night, Fine Gael ministers accused Mr Ross of "showboating" on the issue and insisted the Transport Minister was ready to sign off on an appeal of EU judgment at the first Cabinet meeting.

Several Cabinet sources said he backtracked on the decision when concerns were raised by Independent Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.

Read more: 'Larger European countries are jealous and out to get us' - Noonan

But the Independent Alliance hit back and branded Fine Gael "liars" and insisted concerns were raised by the group when the Dail motion agreed by the Cabinet was changed without their consent.

"Fine Gael's problem is they don't like any dialogue and just want it all their own way," a senior Independent Alliance source said.

The deteriorating relationship between Fine Gael and the Alliance will be brought into sharp focus in the coming weeks as Budget negotiations begin.

With just fives weeks to go before the Budget, a senior Fine Gael minister warned that the latest Cabinet row "does not auger well for the Budget".

"This is the first time since the Government was formed that a lot of people in Fine Gael are saying 'is it worth it' because the limitations of this particular minority government have become apparent for all to see," the Cabinet minister told the Sunday Independent.

"We will get to the point where one day Fine Gael ministers will say 'we can't budge - goodnight and good luck,'" the source added.

Read more: Noonan only learned of €13bn figure when it was made public

The minister pointed out that most minority governments are collapsed by the government rather than the opposition. Another minister said Fine Gael will soon "put a gun to Ross's head" and ask him if he wants an "election or to be in government?".

However, in an interview with the Sunday Independent , Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty said Mr Ross is an "extremely sincere man" despite her colleagues believing he wants to "cause trouble".

In-fighting between Government departments and concerns over Finance Minister Michael Noonan's position in Cabinet are also threatening to shorten the lifetime of the Government.

Fine Gael backbenchers have described Mr Noonan's handling of the Apple tax scandal as "poor" and "weak". 

"He looked and sounded out of it during the week," a Fine Gael TD said. Another said the Finance Minister was caught "flat footed" by Europe and was not prepared for the scale of the €13bn judgment.

Read more: Tarnished State needs to take the fight to Europe

Backbenchers are also tired of Taoiseach Enda Kenny failing to stand up to the Independent Alliance ministers, especially last week and during the recent debacle over a Dail motion on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

"Kenny looked like a wimp again. The Independents are kicking him around the place," a source said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach's office and the Department of Finance have also locked horns in a blame game over whose responsibility it was to brief Independent ministers ahead of the Apple judgment.

There is massive concerns over the lack of communication between the Taoiseach's office and Fine Gael's partners in Government.

There are also fears of a brain drain in the Department of the Taoiseach after the departure of Mr Kenny's key economic advisor Andrew McDowell.

Mr McDowell, who was the architect of Fine Gael's disastrous general election campaign, officially left last week to take up his role as vice president of the European Investment Bank, which comes with an €275,000 salary, plus expenses.

Read more: Storm clouds gather for Apple uber-brand

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