News Politics

Monday 19 February 2018

Noonan and Howlin to intervene in bid to calm Coalition tensions

Ministers Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan
Ministers Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Niall O'Connor and Daniel McConnell

Government figures believe an intervention from Cabinet heavyweights Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin is required to resolve the latest rift that has emerged within the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition.

Fine Gael and Labour Party ministers were last night openly briefing against each other - just days before the most crucial Budget in the lifetime of the Coalition.

Such is the level of strain in the relationship between the two parties, Labour figures have discussed the prospect of vetoing any efforts by Fine Gael to "guillotine" legislation in order to facilitate an early election.

A number of crucial legislative measures, including the Finance and Social Welfare Bills, must be passed by the Dáil before the end of the Coalition's term.

If an early election is called, the Coalition has the option of rushing the legislation through without a full debate.

As revealed by the Irish Independent this week, Finance officials have been instructed to draft a "slimmed down" version of the Finance Bill in the event of a November poll.

Now it's emerged that Labour figures are contemplating the prospect of vetoing any efforts to rush through the Social Welfare Bill, which comes under the auspices of Tánaiste Joan Burton's department. A senior Fine Gael figure last night accused Ms Burton of "throwing her toys out of the pram" over the speculation surrounding a November poll.

Speaking at Dublin Castle yesterday, Ms Burton again put it up to the Taoiseach to hold out on an election until the spring.

"At the end of the day this is a decision for the Taoiseach as set down in the Constitution," the Tánaiste said.

"But I am very conscious we need to do whatever is best for the country," she added.

However, Ms Burton insisted her party was prepared for an early election if one was called.

"The Labour party is ready for an election at any time. I have indicated my preference that I would like to see the work of the Government done."

Last night, sources in both Fine Gael and Labour said it was essential that the confusion over the prospect of an early election be addressed quickly.

But it's also accepted within both parties that the events of recent days have damaged relations and require an intervention prior to Budget Day, most likely by Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

The two ministers are seen as the "axis" of the Coalition because of their extremely strong working relationship.

The Taoiseach is due to appear on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' tomorrow during which he is expected to clarify the situation surrounding the election.

Fine Gael figures fear any failure to signal a spring election will put the future of the Coalition at risk in the final stages of its term. Party strategists met in Dublin yesterday, however, sources described the meeting as "routine".

"Only one person knows the election date and that's Enda. We are as much in the dark as anyone," a strategist said after.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry waded into the speculation yesterday by warning that an early election could collapse the probe.

The committee is due to publish its report in January.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Labour TD Ciaran Lynch said inquiry members should be allowed to complete their job.

"The committee of inquiry, like all Oireachtas inquiries, will fall if an election is called before our work is completed in January," he said. "It's a once-only opportunity and this will be lost and lost forever and not recoverable were the inquiry not allowed to finish its work and to publish its final report in January. I'm very much of the opinion that Government should serve the full term."

Irish Independent

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