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Saturday 16 December 2017

Wavering Labour senators fall into line on Budget welfare cuts

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE GOVERNMENT will get the social welfare bill through the Seanad after all Labour's wavering senators fell into line and supported controversial Budget cuts.

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be red-faced after all his Independent nominees to the senate voted against the bill.

After days of agonising over whether to support the Coalition, Labour senators James Heffernan, Denis Landy and John Whelan all voted for the bill.

However, it is still unclear if Mr Heffernan will back individual aspects of the bill – such as child benefit and respite care cuts – in the coming days.

He could follow the example of Colm Keaveney in the Dail, who voted for the broader bill but rebelled over individual aspects of it.

"I will look at each aspect as it comes," Mr Heffernan said.

Mr Whelan and Mr Landy are expected to support all measures.

The Coalition won the first vote in the Seanad by a margin of 34 to 22, and was boosted by the support of a number of Independent university senators such as Ronan Mullen, Sean Barrett and Feargal Quinn.

However, all of the Taoiseach's nominees voted against the bill, and will oppose the individual cuts in the coming days.

The group of six includes Martin McAleese, who cast his first vote since being appointed to the Seanad in May 2011.

The group is comprised of Mr McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Jillian Van Turnhout, Marie Louise-O'Donnell, Mary-Ann O'Brien and Katherine Zappone.

Ms Van Turnhout said the group was not initially planning to "hinder" the passage of the broader bill last night but changed their minds.

They were going to support it if minister Joan Burton considered amendments they tabled, but said she did not address their concerns. They will oppose the changes to child benefit, the respite care grant and measures to recoup welfare overpayments.

After days of wavering, the three Labour senators backed the bill, but Mr Whelan and Mr Heffernan said their party had to apologise for general election promises it could not keep.


They also claimed they had been reassured by Ms Burton that child benefit will be reformed.

Ms Burton also told the Seanad that carers were more concerned about respite care places rather than the annual grant, which was another concern of Labour senators.

Mr Whelan said he "would like, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Labour Party in Laois-Offaly, to apologise to the electorate in our constituency for failing to abide by a solemn pre-election pledge to protect child benefit".

Irish Independent

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