Dáil passes social welfare cuts after heated debate turns ugly

Sat, Dec 12, 2009, 00:00

THE CONTROVERSIAL Social Welfare Bill, which legislates for cuts of €760 million next year, passed all stages in the Dáil last night with the Government winning by 81 to 75 votes.

Independents Jackie Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish supported the Government as expected. Dr Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon, the Fianna Fáil deputies without the party whip, also backed the Coalition.

Among the TDs not in the House for the votes were former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the Donegal North East TD Jim McDaid. The former Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue and Niall Blaney, who shares Dr McDaid’s constituency, were absent too. However, a spokesman for Government Chief Whip Pat Carey said their absence had been anticipated. He said the deputies all had other arrangements and their absence did not reflect any opposition to the Bill.

During a heated debate, Dublin West Green Party TD Paul Gogarty directed an expletive towards Labour deputy Emmet Stagg. Mr Gogarty, who represents Dublin Mid West, had been challenged by Opposition TDs to vote against the Bill.

As he was heckled by Labour TDs, he rounded on Mr Stagg and said: “With all due respect, in the most unparliamentary language, fuck you, Deputy Stagg, fuck you.”

Mr Gogarty immediately apologised for his “unparliamentary language”, adding he was outraged that somebody should question his sincerity.

Green Party leader John Gormley said last night: “It was unacceptable language. He should not have said it. He has apologised and withdrawn the remarks. I have not had an opportunity to speak to him as yet. It is over. He has apologised now.”

Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin had earlier said the Government was cutting social welfare with “a very heavy heart” but it had to be done.

“This is a very difficult Bill and it is a very sensitive Bill and it is with a very heavy heart that of course we come to make recommendations in relation to this,” she said.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had begun proceedings by complaining about the timetabling of the Bill.

“I want every member of my party to be able to speak out on this social welfare Bill. And if you think that you can come in here and do whatever you want, then you’ve got another thing coming,” he said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called Mr Devins and Mr Scanlon “the two strays from Sligo”.

In a rare Dáil intervention, Mr Healy-Rae responded to Opposition criticism. “If they were short the numbers of people like myself and Michael Lowry to make up the numbers in this House, they’d be damned glad to have us,” he said.

The former Fianna Fáil TD Joe Behan said he was ashamed of his former party.