Tuesday 28 January 2020

FG fears being held to ransom by Martin in budget battles

Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fine Gael fears Micheál Martin is plotting a "disgraceful" political game to secure a series of budget concessions in return for not collapsing the fragile government.

There is growing concern within Taoiseach Enda Kenny's party that it will not be able to claim any victories from the forthcoming budget because Fianna Fáil will exploit its 'confidence and supply' arrangement.

Already, demands from Willie O'Dea for a €5 increase in the old age pension and restoration of lone-parent allowances have sparked major concerns in the Cabinet.

Several sources told the Irish Independent that a 'budget battle' is now in the offing, with pressure on the Taoiseach to stand up to Mr Martin.

One minister pointed out that the pension hike alone would cost in the region of €150m out of the estimated €650m that will be available increases for public expenditure.

The senior minister said Fianna Fáil needed to be "challenged" in the weeks ahead to ensure the party put costings beside every "demand".

A second member of Cabinet claimed Mr O'Dea had already breached the deal which allowed for the formation of a Fine Gael-led minority government.

"Fianna Fáil committed to supporting three budgets once Fine Gael stuck to the thrust of the document.

"We offered them an opportunity to sit around the Cabinet table and have input directly. They declined that," the source said.

However, Mr O'Dea said the suggestion that he had crossed a line in demanding an extra €5 for OAPs was "absolute rubbish".

He noted that the confidence and supply arrangement signalled the need to improve supports for older people to live independently "including a provision for pension increases".

Mr O'Dea said the Fine Gael election manifesto had promised to give pensioners an extra €25 over the normal lifetime of a government, while Fianna Fáil had suggested a figure of €30.

"We were both committing to increasing the old-age pension by a significant amount. "In that context I think what I'm saying is perfectly reasonable.

"Obviously this government is not going to last four years in my opinion," he told the Irish Independent.

The Limerick TD added that there is already an expectation that pension increase will occur in Finance Minister Michael Noonan's sixth budget based on the manifestos.

"They didn't say 'we won't start for a year'. They expected it to start this year and nobody did anything to dissuade people from that expectation," he said.

However, a senior Fine Gael source said Fianna Fáil were playing a "disgraceful" game.

"If we do it they claim to be the good guys. If we don't they point at us and say we're the bad guy."

Fianna Fáil's public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary said the party would produce a fully-costed budget document in early October.

"We will publish our budget documents as we always have. We have been very clear that we are still the main party of Opposition.

"We will engage and make sure that the Budget reflects key areas around fairness. There has been no breach on our side, let me make that very clear," the Mayo TD said.

The deal between the two parties also has a series of non-specific commitments in the areas of health, education and justice.

Irish Independent

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