FF plots to mark Seanad's 90th birthday by delaying budget measures by 90 days
The Government isn’t out of the woods yet on the budget. They drove it through the Dáil with grim determination this week, despite big reservations from most of the Labour TDs and no small amount of angst among many Fine Gael backbenchers.
But there is still potential for considerable embarrassment.
Battle lines are drawn in the Seanad for a major showdown.
The Seanad was 90 years this week – greeting this milestone with a session of self-congratulatory speeches in the House.
And next week, the Upper Chamber could also mark its 90th anniversary by kicking the budget back by 90 days. This would mean the postponement of all those measures due to come into effect on January 1st, effectively throwing the Government’s budgetary plans into disarray.
It’s a tantalising prospect for the Opposition, and one they think is possible to achieve.
The Coalition’s majority in the Seanad is quite tight. Fianna Fáil number crunchers reckon the Seanad could defeat the budget and send it back to the Dáil if three Labour members vote against.
This would involve a scenario where all six university senators withhold their support, along with a number of the Taoiseach’s nominees.
Marie Louise O’Donnell has already indicated she will not be supporting the cut in the respite care grant.
There is a precedent. Earlier this year, James Heffernan, Denis Landy and John Kelly voted in favour of an Opposition motion on the future of the Seanad. Their colleague, John Whelan, has been a vocal critic of the budget.
Deputy government whip, Labour’s Aideen Hayden, will have her work cut out for her but Paul Coghlan of Fine Gael, the Seanad’s chief whip, is confident his troops will do their duty.
Fianna Fáil is opposing every section of the budget, so there will a series of votes taken on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They have refused to grant pairings for the votes.
It’s unlikely the budget will be rejected, but if they reject certain elements such as the cut in the children’s allowance or respite grant care, those measures will have to be returned for amendment to the Dáil, where they will be further debated.
Meanwhile, Colm Keaveney, Labour’s only budget casualty thus far, has now joined the growing ranks of the Gilmore refuseniks in the Dáil. His surprise departure on Thursday led to a very emotional emergency parliamentary party meeting, with Dublin North West deputy John Lyons in tears at one point.
In politics, however, one man’s cloud can often be another woman’s silver lining.
Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins, who is a constituency rival of Colm Keaveney, was chatting to some Fine Gaelers in the bar after this very traumatic emergency meeting.
“You have an unusual way of showing your grief,” said one of them to the smiling Higgins.
Meanwhile, as Róisín Shortall, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty and Willie Penrose remain the silent ghosts at Labour’s gloomy banquet, Keaveney has the potential to cause more of a rumpus.
The Labour party hierarchy finds itself in a bind – troublesome Colm is Labour’s chairman, elected to that position at the national conference. But he is no longer a member of the parliamentary party.
Keaveney has no intention of giving up the post and said yesterday he will remain on as chairman unless the members vote to remove him. Would headquarters risk a special vote?
Under the rules, there may be an escape clause for the party executive. But it would be very drastic.
The executive could simply take away Colm’s membership card and drum him out of the Labour Party.
One wonders how the grassroots would view such a course of action.
Then he would no longer be chairman. But if they did this to Keaveney, would they have to terminate the membership of the other Gilmore refuseniks? Labour whip Emmet Stagg will be pondering the possibilities.
Keaveney doesn’t doubt his knowledge of procedure.
“Emmet is the expert in this area — he should know the ropes. He was in and out of the party enough times himself in the 1980s.”