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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Rabbitte warns of backbench discord on finances

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte yesterday admitted the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition is likely to face the most serious opposition from within its own ranks as it grapples to deal with the crisis in the public finances.

Fresh from the first strains between the two parties over Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton's plans to overhaul the pay rates of 250,000 workers, Mr Rabbitte said backbenchers from Labour and Fine Gael were going to emerge as "the serious opposition".

It follows on from Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore last week saying that Labour backbenchers were free to speak their minds on Government policy, and signals further leeway given by the party leadership to rank-and-file TDs as a host of contentious issues face the Coalition.

But Mr Gilmore also warned his TDs that any comments they made protesting against government policy could come back to haunt them.

Mr Rabbitte yesterday said rank-and-file TDs in both his party and Fine Gael -- not Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein or Independent TDs -- would provide the "serious opposition" in the Dail.

"Watching the present Dail, the situation has changed dramatically," Mr Rabbitte told the 'Sam Smyth on Sunday' radio show on Today FM.

"The Independent deputies and Sinn Fein are making a lot of noise. Quite frankly, it isn't even resonating with the press people covering it. They know it's not in the realm of the real world.

"And they can make all the noise they like and when you really get on to Sinn Fein or Robin (sic) Boyd Barrett or Joe Higgins about the crisis, they say: 'Why don't you bring the oil ashore? That'll pay for it.'

"They may be right, there may be plenty of oil out there. The trouble is we haven't yet found it. Fianna Fail, meanwhile, can't put their heads up on the economy. So the opposition in this Government, in my view, is going to emerge from the two parties' backbenchers."

Mr Bruton yesterday indicated that he intended to press ahead with his proposals for scrapping extra Sunday payments and some wage rates across a host of industries, saying reform was vital for job creation.

"We have to create a future that has strong employment growth," he said.

Mr Rabbitte's prediction also comes after mixed messages from within the Coalition over Environment Minister Phil Hogan's plans to introduce a flat-rate household charge from next year.

And Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last week signalled that college fees could be on the way back, warning the financial crisis in third-level education would have to be addressed.

A number of Labour TDs are watching Mr Quinn's education brief, and are wary of further cutbacks to schools.

Mr Quinn last week gave what sources close to him are describing as an "entreaty" to cabinet colleagues to take tough decisions.

Irish Independent

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