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Howlin pleads for TDs to stand firm

PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has pleaded with Labour backbenchers to stand firm ahead of the Budget.

Mr Howlin has warned the TDs that it will be tough to defend the €3.5bn in tax increases and cutbacks, due to be announced on December 5. But he said that it was their job to ensure that the country stays on the path to recovery.

In particular, he said that the politicians would face a backlash over cutbacks in education, health and social welfare.

However he refused to give them any further hints as to what exactly the Budget would contain.

Last year, Mr Howlin gave a similar pre-Budget pep talk to backbenchers, but the economic picture he painted was so grim that some emerged "ashen-faced" after the meeting.

This time, he was more upbeat about the prospects for the economy next year.

It came after some Labour backbenchers had complained that they were being kept in the dark about the Budget.

Until Mr Howlin's intervention yesterday, there had been no ministerial briefings about the Budget to the parliamentary party. According to one TD, who attended the meeting: "The danger is that there could be a most significant backlash when the detail emerges."

Despite better consultation last year, there was still a backlash from Labour and Fine Gael backbenchers to measures they had not been warned about -- such as cuts to disability payments for young people and cuts to teacher numbers.