Labour chairman Keaveney votes against Government

Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 00:00

Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney has voted against the Government in the Social Welfare Bill and is to be expelled from the parliamentary party.

Asked tonight whether Mr Keaveney would remain as party chairman, Labour leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told RTÉ: "I don’t think it’s tenable for someone who is not in the parliamentary Labour Party to hold senior office in the Party. That’s a Party matter we’ll have to deal with in the course of time".

Mr Keaveney is to be the fifth Labour TD to lose the party whip in the 20 months of the Coalition .The Galway East TD voted with the Opposition on section 5 of the Bill which includes the cuts in the respite care grant. The Government won the vote by 87 to 54 in a comfortable margin. The Opposition then called for a walk through vote on the section.

In a Labour-issued statement tonight, party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the party “went into Government with our eyes open, knowing there would be difficult decisions and difficult days. Today was one of those days”

He “welcomed the passage of the Bill" and thanked “I am grateful to, and proud of, the Labour deputies, who had the courage to vote with the Government today," he said.

While the Bill contained several difficult provisions “But there were many other provisions that it didn’t contain – options that were not taken”, he said.

Mr Gilmore said the Budget was “difficult" but “in the times in which we live, it is a fair budget, and one which in many ways reflects Labour’s core values”.

There had been continued speculation about Mr Keaveney's intentions which had dampened after he voted with the Government on the second stage of the Bill, which was the introductory debate. He also voted with the Government to allow the committee stage debate to go ahead.

There were defections on previous issues by Labour TDs Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty and Roisin Shortall. Ms Shortall resigned from the party.

Just before the vote Mr Keaveney tweeted “Acta non verba @labour”, a Latin phrase meaning deeds not words.

Mr Keaveney said that that he will remain as Chairman of the Labour Party and was “pretty comfortable” in the knowledge that the previous Labour chair was not a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Speaking after the vote on Newstalk radio, Mr Keaveney said it was with a heavy heart that he decided to vote against the Government, but that he found it very difficult to support measures that attack vulnerable people in society.

“I know people are in pain out there. My value system can’t actually allow me to vote for this budget and I’m very proud of the Labour Party and I’m very proud of the people I work with,” he said.

Mr Keaveney’s profile appeared to have been removed from the Labour Party website earlier, but his profile reappeared a short time later. A spokesman for the Labour Party said it may have been due to many internet users viewing the website during the vote.

“There might have been a high amount of traffic and temporarily removed his profile. I’m note sure. I’m not the most technical,” he said.

Mr Keaveney was elected to Galway County Council in 2004 and to the Dáil in 2011. He became chairman of the Labour Party last April. He became involved in student politics in the 1990s particularly with a free fees campaign and was president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) in 1995.

Dublin West TD Patrick Nulty welcomed his decision to oppose the Bill. “This is an unfair budget, which breaks Labour promises,” Mr Nulty said.

“The measures contained in the bill, such as the cut to the respite care grant and the cut in child benefit, are not acceptable to those who voted Labour.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said it was a “serious blow to the Government” and the authority of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore

Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said the “really extraordinary thing” was “bar one” the Labour and Fine Gael deputies were “prepared stand over this budget”.

Earlier today Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was accused in the Dáil of making liars of his TDs because of the budget measures.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government intended rushing through social welfare legislation introducing cuts which, in real terms and real time, would cause real hardship to families, children and women.

“They are the very sections of society that you solemnly promised protection to,’’ she added.

Mr Gilmore, she said, had comprehensively made liars of his TDs, Ministers, senators and himself.

When Leas Cheann Comhairle Michael Kitt said the word “lie’’ would have to be withdrawn, Ms McDonald said she would substitute “untruth’’ and “porky pie’’.

Mr Gilmore said Sinn Féin had a brass neck to complain about basic rates of social welfare given that the rate in the North, where the party is in government, is €87 a week.

He said the budget was difficult because it was restoring the State’s finances and freeing it of the economic mess this Government had inherited.

“It has protected basic rates of social welfare, children in the classroom, health services and is introducing the biggest package of taxes on wealth that has been seen in a budget, certainly in my time in this House, to raise over €500 million,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Labour and Fine Gael TDs had voted, one and all, for some of the most regressive cuts to child benefit, respite grants and child clothing allowances, as well as introducing an increase in tax for low-paid workers.

This was despite the fact the Labour Party had made extraordinary commitments before the last general election.

“It has now broken every single promise it made,’’ said Mr Martin.

Full text of Colm Keaveney’s statement.

On my vote against the Social Welfare Bill:

Since the first leaks emerged on Budget 2013 I have had deep misgivings on aspects of the Budget in relation to the changes to PRSI, to child benefit, to respite grants and to the overall regressive nature of the budget in terms of income.

Since Monday of last week I have been working to overturn the more odious aspects of this budget. I voted for the measures on the night of the budget in order to allow time myself and other deputies to campaign for the reversal or amelioration of these measures. Even last night I voted for the Second Stage of the Social Welfare Bill in order to allow for an opportunity for an eleventh hour change to be made. I and the other deputies have been unsuccessful in that regard.

Therefore, I have this afternoon voted against the Bill. I could not for reasons of conscience, or on the basis of the mandate that I received from my constituents in Galway East, vote for the measures in this Bill. I simply cannot vote in favour of measures that will have such a negative effect on working families, particularly given the regressive nature of the hits proposed.

I wish my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party well. They are the finest group of people that I have had the honour to work with. It is unfortunate that we found ourselves sharing Government with a party whose values see an equivalence in seeking to cut welfare to the most vulnerable in our society with a measure to increase the tax paid by those on high incomes. The progressive section of Fine Gael, prevalent to an extent in the FitzGerald era, is now almost entirely absent and that party now seeks to become an Irish Tory Party.

I remain loyal to the Labour Party and to its values and the values of its membership. I am proud of all that the party has achieved throughout their 100 year existence and I will remain a member of the party and continue to work on its behalf.

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