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Labour's desperate bid to keep senators onside

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton will hold a last-minute meeting with Labour senators as she desperately attempts to keep them on side to vote through the Budget.

The ongoing rancour within the Labour party is also drawing Eamon Gilmore's leadership into focus with many backbenchers believing he has suffered long term damage.

Despite weekend efforts "to calm the troops" Labour is now facing an unprecedented war on two fronts.

The party hierarchy wants reassurances from Fine Gael that there will be some renegotiation of the Programme for Government in the New Year.

And with several senators waiting until the 11th hour to decide if they will back cuts to child benefit and respite care Mr Gilmore is hoping for the Christmas break more than most.

It was suggested today that he may win the internal battle with senators, including John Whelan and Denis Landy, who had expressed reservations about the Budget, appearing to be pacified.

However, questionmarks remain over the voting intentions of Limerick senator James Heffernan.

He says that he is "unconvinced at the moment" but will wait for the outcome of a meeting with Ms Burton ahead of the Seanad vote tomorrow.

If Labour does manage to secure full support for the austerity measure there is still no guarantee that the Bill will pass smoothly through the House.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also faces a backlash from senators that he handpicked for a nomination.

Mary Ann O'Brien, one of the Taoiseach's nominees, today indicted that she will vote against the Budget.

"I would have to do so because of the cut in respite care allowance," said the senator who is the wife of Jack and Jill founder Jonathan Irwin.

The Government will be relieved if it can make it to the Christmas recess without losing any more members.

But there will still be tough talking to do afterwards as the Taoiseach and Tanaiste try to find a way forward after some of the most bitter budget negotiations ever.

Mr Gilmore is expected to ask for a new draft of the Programme for Government so that Labour can readjust its redline issues. Party grassroots are extremely unhappy at what they see as a Fine Gael whitewash in the Budget.

And sources say it will also take a big effort to get all ministers "back on the one team" after a series of heated confrontations at Cabinet meetings.

Over the weekend it emerged that old friends Michael Noonan and Pat Rabbitte had a furious row over the repayment of the €3.1bn Anglo Irish Bank promissory note.

Mr Gilmore yesterday insisted "Pat Rabbitte and Michael Noonan aren't squabbling about anything".

"This Government is united and determined that we will find a resolution to the bank debt difficulty that the previous Government landed us with," the Tanaiste said.