Monday 19 February 2018

Burton wants extra cabinet post as Kenny targets Education job

Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office this morning.
Photo: Mark Condren
Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office this morning. Photo: Mark Condren
Joan Burton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Newly elected Labour Leader, Joan Burton with outgoing leader, Eamon Gilmore at the Mansion House, Dublin this evening after she was announced as new leader. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Joan Burton with the new deputy leader, Alan Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Daniel McConnell, Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is eyeing up the Education Minister's position for Fine Gael, and Tanaiste Joan Burton wants an extra cabinet post for the Labour Party as the coalition talks begin.

Mr Kenny and Ms Burton are meeting in Government Buildings to begin discussions on a cabinet reshuffle and the prioritisation of policies.

Speaking this morning, Joan Burton aid she will hold "full and frank discussions" with the Taoiseach over the make-up of the new cabinet.

Speaking on her way into government buildings, the Dublin West TD said she hopes the new cabinet can be agreed as soon as possible.

The pair are also due to discuss the contents of a Labour policy document which has called for a greater emphasis on social issues such as housing.

"We both want the government to continue its mandate and we want to chart a pathway for a better Ireland," Ms Burton said.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny refused to be drawn on speculation that Fine Gael is seeking to swap the Jobs portfolio for Education.

It's believed that Ms Burton will demand an extra Labour seat at the cabinet table and is eyeing up Richard Bruton's jobs ministry.

But speaking today, Mr Kenny said he would not be drawn on the cabinet speculation.

"I'm not going to make any comment about any of that. As I said I'm looking forward to meeting Joan Burton, she's the new Tanaiste nominated by me last week. So we have matters to discuss that are relevant to the future of the country," he said.

Among the Labour demands are a second year of free child care for 65,000 children, the Jobs Minister's portfolio and measures to ease the tax burden on low and middle income families.

The allocation of ministries was last night expected to be the area of greatest conflict between the two sides.

"The most contentious area is what ministries will go where. That will not be easy," a Labour source said.

Negotiations have taken place between Mr Kenny's economic adviser Andrew McDowell and Ms Burton's incoming Chief of Staff Ed Brophy throughout the weekend.

Ahead of the talks, Ms Burton sent a dossier outlining the priorities that Labour wants to see in Government to Mr Kenny.

"In terms of the policy stuff, Fine Gael are not frightened by what we are asking for," said one Labour source.

It was suggested last night that Ms Burton was not prepared to continue to honour agreements made by her predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, but is seeking to 'start again' when it comes to ministerial portfolios.

At the moment, Fine Gael has 10 cabinet positions and Labour five.

In an opening position, Ms Burton is to seek a sixth portfolio for Labour from Mr Kenny as she believes Mr Gilmore, "left something behind" in the original Coalition talks. "The view is there has to be an obvious win," a Labour source said.

But Fine Gael figures say the number of portfolios was agreed with Labour when the parties went into power after the 2011 general election. "You'd have to renegotiate the Programme for Government to do that," a Fine Gael source said.

Fine Gael is keen to take control of Education, currently held by Labour, particularly as the closure of small schools is highly sensitive for rural TDs.

A Fine Gael source said: "If we are giving away jobs, it'd be Education you want in return. The small schools issue has done a huge amount of damage in rural communities. It rebounds right across the constituency. It's the same with post offices. You'd think we have closed them all."

The departure from Cabinet of three Dublin ministers – Mr Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn – means that Ms Burton is likely to promote the man she defeated for the leadership, junior health Minister Alex White.

"It's hard to see Alex left out because southside Dublin is now an issue," a source said.

He is expected to be elevated alongside new Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly and junior health minister Kathleen Lynch.

Promoting Mr White would also rule out earlier speculation that Ms Burton was likely to promote Senator Ivana Bacik.

Labour sources said the party was seeking to prioritise TDs whose seats were vulnerable in the ministerial shake-up at senior and junior level.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is understood to be "furious at being sacked in public" after a report in the Sunday Independent. Sources close to Ms Burton deny she confirmed Mr Rabbitte's removal from Cabinet, but it is expected. "She needs space and new faces," a source said.

Ms Burton will also table tax cuts for young families and a second year of free childcare.

Labour is pushing for parents of small children to be given a second year of free childcare. It is known that some in Fine Gael, including Frances Fitzgerald, are supportive.

Last year, the Government spent €175m to support 65,000 child places across the country. There appeared to be agreement between the sides to establish a low pay commission to examine whether the minimum wage should be increased.

Fine Gael sources say the party wants to see any tax cuts benefit "those who pay for everything" the so-called 'squeezed middle'.

Regarding taxation, both Fine Gael and Labour favour reducing the tax burden. It was suggested last night that Labour will push to increase the tax-free allowance to target the lower paid, while Fine Gael favours increasing the tax bands.

"Fine Gael would prefer if the poor didn't exist, but they do," one Labour source said.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said yesterday that income tax relief will form part of the talks, particularly the low level at which the higher rate kicks in.

"We hit the top rate of tax at €33,000. That is incredibly low income so that is one of the pinch points that has to be addressed to ease the pressure on families. People need to see some dividend from the sacrifices they have made," he said.

While both sides agree that something must be given back to families, the exact nature of that remains to be ironed out.

Mr Bruton indicated that October's Budget adjustment is likely to be under €1bn, well below the stated target of €2bn.

He said: "Yes, the omens are good. Not just the increased size of the GDP figures but with tax revenues running 7.5pc ahead of last year shows a pretty healthy trend. It does give the Government more headroom."

An adjustment of less than the stated €2bn was achievable, said economist Jim Power: "The tax take is well ahead of target, spending is below target, so Michael Noonan will be in a position to deliver a significantly lower budget adjustment. I certainly think it will be under €1bn and that will be very appropriate for the economy."

Irish Independent

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