Monday 18 December 2017

Wavering senators are latest threat to Social Welfare Bill

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE Government is facing another Budget headache as Seanad opposition to social welfare cuts mounts.

Independent senators appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny are now vowing to vote against the cuts next week.

It comes as a number of Labour senators waver on the cuts, threatening the Coalition's slim majority of 32 to 28 in the Upper House.

The Government is worried the Seanad could vote down the Social Welfare Bill and delay the cuts by 90 days. The Dail still has the power to override the Seanad's rejection.

Wavering senators are likely to be lobbied intensely before the first vote on Tuesday.

Two senators appointed by Mr Kenny as part of the 11 Taoiseach's nominees – Mary Ann O'Brien, pictured left, and Marie Louise O'Donnell, pictured right – say they will vote against the child benefit and respite care grant cuts.

Ms O'Donnell says it is a "chance for the Seanad to stand up and be counted".

Ms O'Brien is the co-founder of the Jack and Jill Foundation, which helps the families of children with severe neurological problems. She is also opposed to the respite care grant cut and her office says she will vote against the entire bill.

There are also doubts about the other Independent Taoiseach's nominees – Fiach Mac Conghail, Martin McAleese, Katherine Zappone and Jillian Van Turnhout.

Mr Mac Conghail says he hasn't made his mind up yet while it is not clear if Mr McAleese, who does not usually cast votes, will be attending the Seanad next week.

Ms Van Turnhout was not available for comment but is understood not to have made her mind up. Ms Zappone could not be contacted.

There are also doubts over whether a number of Labour senators – such as Denis Landy, John Whelan and James Heffernan – will support the bill.

Irish Independent

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