Burton to meet party's disaffected Senators
Unhappy Labour Party Senators will be seeking assurances from Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton that are strong enough to enable them vote for her social welfare legislation.
The discussion is to start at 2pm today, an hour before the Bill comes before the Seanad on the first of a three-day debate. All 12 Labour Senators are expected to attend the meeting with Ms Burton.
No indication as to voting intentions was available from Senators James Heffernan, Denis Landy or John Whelan, all of whom, especially Mr Heffernan, are regarded as potential party rebels.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Senator Martin McAleese, a Taoiseach’s nominee, said: “He will not be making his voting intentions known in advance.”
Government parties have a majority of four in the Seanad, with 32 Senators to 28 others, in contrast with their highly dominant position in the Dáil.
Another Taoiseach’s nominee, Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell, said she would be opposing the Bill as she felt it presented a “unique opportunity for the Seanad to have some purpose” by saying to the Government: “Thus far and no further.”
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien, also nominated by the Taoiseach, said she would be opposing the Bill: “I would just ask the Government to reconsider.”
Ms Burton had said she was looking forward to hearing the views of Senators. She said she knew “the Senators are anxious to see the country getting back on its feet”.
The Minister deflected questions as to whether she could give the commitment that some Labour Senators sought for no further cuts to child welfare during the lifetime of the Coalition.
The Government will face a potential shortfall of €124 million in savings and revenue next year if the Social Welfare Bill is defeated this week.
The cost of delaying the abolition of the PRSI-free allowance alone would cost €22 million per month or some €6 million until April 1st.
A further complication is that delays in implementing the legislation may also adversely affect lone parents.
Payments were due to be withdrawn from more than 1,000 lone parents from January 1st but Ms Burton had agreed to defer the withdrawal until July. However, if the amendment contained in the Bill is not passed the the cuts in the payments will take effect from January 1st.