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TDs are warned to stop hunting for 'pathetic headlines'

A Government minister has warned feuding back-bench government TDs to stop their "attention-seeking" bickering which he described as "highly distracting."

The warning from Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes comes as a group of angry FG backbenchers have this weekend blasted Social Protection Minister Joan Burton for ignoring their concerns over budget cuts to community employment schemes.

There are also mounting fears at the top level within FG that a number of the party's TDs are poised to resign the party whip over the escalating row over teacher cuts in rural schools being brought forward by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

Mr Hayes criticised the growing tendency by coalition backbenchers of "spinning one way or another, looking for pathetic headlines."

Ms Burton is under fire from a group of angry government TDs who have accused her "ignoring" their grave concerns over unanticipated budget cuts by her department, in relation to community employment schemes.

The backbenchers -- John O'Mahony, Pat Deering and Paul Connaughton -- have said the cut in funding, from €1,500 to €500 per person, has seen many schemes that had been due to run for 12 months from last September essentially shut down since the beginning of this month.

The TDs are angry that the minister is telling them that the schemes will be honoured yet ,on the ground, they have effectively been shut since January 1 due to a lack of funding.

The trio are keen not to have the row escalate into an inter-Coalition spat, but have now accused the minister of refusing even to engage or speak with them to address their concerns.

They say the scenario put forward by her in the Dail is in stark contrast to the reality experienced by those on the schemes on the ground.

The Community Employment programme helps long-term unemployed people get back to work by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities.

Mayo TD John O'Mahony told the Sunday Independent: "She says one thing in the Dail on this, and the FAS officials on the ground are saying something different altogether. We are calling on her to meet us to clarify what is going on."

Carlow-Kilkenny TD Pat Deering (FG) said that Ms Burton promised the money for schemes that began in September would be committed, yet many of these schemes have been effectively shut down.

"We were told that money would be available for schemes up until September. On the ground, money is not being made available. Schemes are being shut down. All of this is creating unnecessary fear."

However, Ms Burton is also under fire from many within her own party.

Colm Keaveney, Galway East TD said: "We [the backbenchers] speak as one on this issue. There is a disparity between the political language being used by Joan Burton and what is happening on the ground. This needs to be resolved immediately as these schemes are on the edge."

There is also mounting opposition within the Coalition to proposals to cut teacher numbers in rural schools.

Sunday Independent