Sunday 25 February 2018

Labour in 'class war' over Noonan's 'allergic' jibe

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan

Niall O'Connor, John Downing and Caroline Crawford

The Labour Party has reacted furiously following Finance Minister Michael Noonan's comment that some dole claimants were "allergic to work".

Labour ministers and TDs have rounded on Mr Noonan, accusing the senior Fine Gael politician of "electioneering" at their expense.

The junior Coalition partner has found itself being dragged into an unexpected 'class war' after Mr Noonan's comments directed at some of those who are unemployed.

The senior Cabinet member stood over the remarks last night in a move that will create further tensions within the Coalition.

Such was the unease within Labour, Tánaiste Joan Burton yesterday claimed Mr Noonan made the remarks at a Fine Gael event, suggesting he was playing up to party colleagues.

"Michael Noonan is Michael Noonan and he was talking at a Fine Gael party meeting," she said.

The comments were made at a chamber of commerce event in Kilkenny.

The row over Mr Noonan's remarks came as his Fine Gael colleague Leo Varadkar said that he would not support a public sector pay deal at the expense of public services.

Mr Varadkar's intervention, which comes as Labour Minister Brendan Howlin prepares to begin pay talks with unions, demonstrates a clear difference of view on where the Government's spending priorities should lie.

Meanwhile, Labour figures have accused Mr Noonan of "electioneering" ahead of the upcoming Carlow-Kilkenny by-election, as well as trying to make Fine Gael appear more attractive to middle-class voters.

Mr Noonan has sparked fresh tensions within the Coalition after he dismissed some unemployed people, who he said "will never work".

Mr Noonan said the Government would ensure there was a job for everyone who wants one "in the next couple of years", but that there was a cohort of unemployed people who had no interest in working.

"(But) we all know, there will be people who will never work. They're allergic to work," said the Limerick TD.

"So we're not including those in the statistics. But everybody who wants a job will have a job in the next couple of years," he told a Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Labour moved to distance itself from Mr Noonan's remarks.

In the Dáil, Ms Burton dodged the issue and refused to say whether she discussed the comments with Mr Noonan. Challenged over the remarks by Mary Lou McDonald, the Labour leader instead turned the issue back on Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

"Have you ever had a conversation with your party leader in relation to various issues in relation to him or are you a coward?" Ms Burton said.

Ms Burton later said Labour was acutely conscious of the difficulties experienced by people who had lost their jobs. "But the experience in the Labour Party is that immediately after the bank crash and the construction crash, 330,000 people lost their jobs," she said.

"There were people going down to social welfare offices; there were no Intreo offices then, no real help. There were people who never in their lives ever expected to see the inside of a social welfare office and we are helping to turn it around for those people," she added.

Last night, several Labour TDs insisted the party stands shoulder-to-shoulder with workers.

Minister for State at the Department of Social Protection Kevin Humphreys described Mr Noonan's comments as "unhelpful".

Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan said Government figures should "desist" from using such language and should instead focus on giving unemployed people the confidence required for securing work.

Privately, several senior Labour figures believe Mr Noonan's remarks were designed to boost the prospects of Fine Gael's by-election candidate David Fitzgerald, who is behind Fianna Fáil's Bobby Aylward in the polls.

Irish Independent

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