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Labour fury at Kenny slur

LABOUR TDs believe they are being "hung out to dry" by their Government partners and by Enda Kenny in particular.

A massive pre-Budget rift has emerged between the coalition parties after Mr Kenny suggested he'd make "an honest leader" out of Eamon Gilmore.

Relations between Labour and Fine Gael have plunged to a new low with a number of Labour deputies claiming today that there are "serious differences".

Several told the Herald that the Taoiseach's throwaway comments in the Dail had infuriated Labour party members. Mr Kenny told Socialist TD Joe Higgins that pledges made in Labour's election manifesto were not part of the Programme for Government.

However he went on to say that he would make an "honest leader" out of Mr Gilmore -- a comment that sparked fury at last night's parliamentary party meeting.

The remark has today prompted one senior TD to accuse the Taoiseach of "playing games".

"There is serious paranoia among some members because we're being made out to look like a dysfunctional party. We're not and Fine Gael need to get that straight in their heads," the deputy said.

"They are playing games -- right up to Enda Kenny."

Party sources told the Herald that yesterday's parliamentary party briefing by Mr Gilmore was "tense" and "passionate" at times.

Some TDs and senators are understood to have strongly urged Mr Gilmore to "stand up" to Mr Kenny over the remarks.

One furious backbench TD told the Herald: "We may be junior partners in Government but comments like those by Kenny are only creating divides. Who does he think he is?" And there is growing unrest among TDs and senators that their Fine Gael partners are leaking information to the media to keep the focus off them.

Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys told the Herald: "Anyone suggesting that there is a revolt in the Labour Party is suffering from delusion and over exaggeration. There is not a revolt, simple as that. I don't know who is leaking that there is unrest here but whoever it is has their own agenda."

And Mr Humphreys strongly hinted that there was still room for manoeuvre over issues such as child benefit and medical card charges.

"We realise we are a minority Government party but we are approaching this Budget from our very strong social conscience. I, and many others will be fighting for as fair a Budget as possible."

The tug-of-war between Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Health Minister James Reilly over where the budget axe will fall was expected to continue today.

Ms Burton is believed to still be pushing to maintain child benefit but a compromise may be struck whereby payments such as the Family Income Supplement will be increased for poorer families.