Not even a sporting chance for Labour


It’s going to be a bumpy week for the Coalition.

There is deep unease in the Labour Party following the budget, with TDs complaining that Fine Gael “stitched up” its junior Coalition partner when putting it together. However, Fine Gael people would not agree: they maintain they were left out of the loop when the budget was framed.

Don’t blame their party, they say. Blame the EMC – the four-man politburo that is the Economic Management Council, comprising the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure. Kenny, Gilmore, Noonan and Howlin took the decisions and told them very little.

“The media knew more than we did,” said a senior deputy on Thursday, as the fallout from Budget 2013 began. “We had no hand, act or part in most of it.”

Yesterday, as carers protested outside Leinster House against cuts in the respite care grant, the Taoiseach’s travelling media posse followed him to a function in Bray to ask about the growing public disquiet at the measure.

One of his press aides said he would not be doing a “doorstep” interview as he had answered a query (one, briefly) on the budget the day before. The journalists were later told he would address the matter in his speech.

Which Enda did, from the safety of his podium, no questions entertained.

Not exactly a sterling defence on Friday of a budget he backed on Wednesday.

Will Labour lose any troops come Wednesday’s vote? It’s very possible.

To make matters worse, the handling of the announcement about what sporting clubs were getting grants infuriated many Labour TDs and Senators.

More than 2,000 clubs applied for grants and 600 received funding totalling €26 million. Breaking the good news locally (along with claiming responsibility for swinging the decision) is every politician’s ambition.

With two camps in Coalition, the information was supposed to be strictly embargoed until the last minute, thus preventing sneaky announcements from those with the inside track.

A department official emailed the details to Labour TDs and Senators 90 minutes before the list of recipients was made public.

“Please find attached details of sports capital funding being announced at 2.30 today by Minister Ring.

“This information is embargoed for national release until then, but please feel free to use locally beforehand.” This was very considerate of the Fine Gael Minister of State. His departmental flunkie immediately received two expressions of gratitude, both of them copied to FG deputies and Senators.

Thanks a bunch

The first came from Colm Keaveney of Galway East.

“Thanks for your email.

“I got the details of the spend announced by FG local authority members at the parish pump this morning.

“Thank the Minister for keeping Oireachtas members informed and assure him the communications system for local authority members needs little reform in the forthcoming budget.”

The second one, more succinct, came from Michael McNamara of Clare.

“Thanks for that. I’d say there wasn’t a lunch eaten in a Fine Gael household today.”

Meanwhile, dark mutterings continue of Fine Gael snaffling the lion’s share of the grants, to the exclusion of clubs championed by Labour representatives.

Certain clubs in Big Phil Hogan’s constituency (three Fine Gael TDs in Carlow-Kilkenny) did particularly well, while Labour’s Ann Phelan has been left wondering why the rowing club she argued was in need of funding appears to be the only one in the country left out.

Big Phil did well out of the primary care centre divvy-outs too. FG’s stroke unit is filling up fast.