Labour rebel points the finger at council of senior Ministers
Interview:TD says failure to protect child benefit has hurt Labour’s grassroots
Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney has accused the four-man Economic Management Council that agreed the bulk of the budget of having “sprung an odious budget” on new Government TDs.
In an interview with The Irish Times after he voted against the Social Welfare Bill, an emotional Mr Keaveney said Labour grassroots members were “hurting” because the general election promise to protect child benefit had been broken.
The Galway East TD said Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton had done an “outstanding job”, but was critical of the economic council which is made up of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.
“The failure I believe emerged from the Economic Management Council.They sprung an odious budget on people like me who are new to Dáil, new to budgets. I wasn’t elected for this and it isn’t what I promised,” Keaveney said.
He said he was “appalled” that Labour’s budgetary proposal for a 3 per cent increase in the universal social charge (USC) for those earning more than €100,000 was rejected by Fine Gael. A Siptu official on leave of absence, Mr Keaveney said he still supports the fiscal strategy of the Government.
“I don’t intend to pale into insignificance . . . I think that we can keep this Government honest on a number of important issues, particularly in health.”
Voted Labour chairman by party members at their conference, he said he intended to remain in that position until members decided otherwise. Viewed as an unpredictable maverick in Leinster House, his defection left the party leadership surprised but not shocked.
He said Labour candidates in the general election had been told not to make any promises to potential voters. “I distinctively remember knocking on doors and looking into the faces of families who had a difficulty over what was in the purse then and I had to stay faithful to that memory and to what I believed,” he said.
When he flagged concerns to Ministers before the budget was announced he was told to wait for the counter-measures.
“When I took the detail home with me in terms of the budget I couldn’t find the counter-measures that were going to make life easier, and I came to realise that wrong choices were made.”
He backed the non-contentious elements of the budget last week, such as an increase in excise duty. “I would have voted a €2 increase on a bottle of wine if I thought I could protect a child. I would have put €1 on a box of cigarettes because both of them are luxuries but child benefit isn’t a luxury.”
His constituency will lose a chunk of its territory and some 20,500 voters to neighbouring Roscommon-Galway, with the number of seats reducing from four to three. However, Mr Keaveney denied this entered his thinking when he decided to vote against the Government.
He said he told Mr Gilmore the night before the budget was announced that he was “going to have a difficulty” with voting for the child benefit cut.
“I know that there will be consequences in terms of relationships but this is about policies not about personalities.”