Under fire over disability, Kenny jumps from Dáil frying pan into EU melting pot


DÁIL SKETCH: Backbenchers and FF called for a U-turn while the Taoiseach focused on Gerry Adams

THE GOVERNMENT’S disability debacle dominated events in Leinster House yesterday.

Government backbenchers had felt the heat from constituents from Tuesday evening and were adamant that the cuts in disability benefit would have to be reversed.

They had privately made their views known to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Ministers in no uncertain manner.

When Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin rose at Opposition leaders’ questions to describe the cuts as “callous and unnecessary”, he was not contradicted by the same grim-faced backbenchers.

The Taoiseach’s immediate response was party political.

Every day, he said, Martin came into the House and attempted to be more biting by using words such as “callous”, “treachery”, “targeted’’ and so on.

He urged the Fianna Fáil leader to reflect on the background against which the budget had been announced.

“Here comes the history lesson,” said Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea, who went on to taunt the hapless Labour backbenchers.

“The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is the conscience of the Labour Party,” he declared.

This was a reference to the strong indications that the cuts would be reversed given by the Fine Gael Minister on the RTÉ television Prime Time programme on Tuesday night and on Pat Kenny’s radio programme yesterday morning.

The Taoiseach kicked that controversial budgetary can down the road, probably never to be seen again.

He announced that Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who was sitting next to him, had asked the working group dealing with taxation and social welfare issues to consider the matter and report quickly back to the Government.

The Taoiseach’s announcement led to a more bullish attitude from Fine Gael backbenchers, but their Labour conterparts continued to remain largely silent in the face of Opposition jibes.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams wanted all budget cuts reversed.

“I read with interest the list of Sinn Féin’s sponsors in the United States,” said Kenny. “Perhaps we might have a discussion about it some time.” Adams replied that his party would welcome that.

“Maybe the Taoiseach will address people with disabilities,” said Adams’s colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

As the heated exchanges continued, a drama was enacted just outside the chamber when a vigilant member of the Leinster House staff prevented a man entering to give an unsolicited address to the TDs. He was one of a group of visitors to the House.

Later, during the resumed budget debate, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte hit back at the Opposition on behalf of his Labour colleagues.

He claimed that the “pick and mix of eccentrics and clapped out refugees from the former government have nothing to offer the people of Ireland”.

Kenny and Adams were up close and personal again when the Sinn Féin leader challenged him on his salary.

“On what planet does the Taoiseach think he is worth €200,000?” said Adams. “On planet Enda.”

Kenny replied: “I see Deputy Adams claimed expenses for accommodation and visits for himself and others in the US.’’

The Taoiseach later left for the euro summit – surely a case of jumping from the Dáil frying pan into the European fire.