Senators 'will back' welfare Bill
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said she’s sure Senators will be anxious to see the Social Welfare Bill implemented.
The Minister was speaking in advance of a Seanad debate on the Bill which begins tomorrow which will give effect to the welfare changes announced in the budget.
The Coalition has a slim majority in the Seanad with 31 of the House’s 60 members.
While at least four Labour Senators had expressed reservations about supporting the Bill, it now appears the support of just one Labour Senator remains in doubt after days of speculation that the Government could face an embarrassing defeat.
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said he would advise his parliamentary colleagues in the Seanad to “hold their nerve” and vote for the Bill this week.
“The advice I have is to stick to the course. I know it’s a hard one, but unfortunately given the scale of the mess that we were plunged into, there isn’t any shortcut available. We’ve done most of the heavy lifting. Now it’s behind us,” he said.
“I know that some of my colleagues have found it very difficult, but they did grit their teeth and stick with it and that is what I would say to my colleagues in the upper house.”
When asked about the possibility of a split in the Labour Party due to differences of opinion on the Budget, Mr Rabbitte said that there have always been differences of opinion within the party.
“There have been differences of opinion in the Labour Party since in 1912. That’s the very nature of the party. There is robust debate, always has been, within the party,” he said.
“We have to have discipline and if discipline breaks down, then you are no more than a flag of convenience.”
Yesterday, Limerick Senator James Heffernan repeated his concerns and said he would not be bullied into voting one way or the other on the Bill. “I am unconvinced at the moment,” said Mr Heffernan, who added that he would be taking note of what proposals are presented to the Labour group of Senators.
The group is to meet the Ms Burton tomorrow in advance of the debate on the Bill.
Some of the party’s Senators have expressed a desire for a commitment from the Minister that there will be no further across-the-board cuts in child benefit during the lifetime of the Coalition.
Speaking this morning, Ms Burton said she was looking forward to hearing the views of Senators.
“I think we’ll have a very good and a very detailed debate in the Seanad,” the Minister said. “I’m looking forward to hearing all of the views of the Senators - I know that the Senators are anxious to see the country getting back on its feet.
"My focus is getting the bill through the Seanad."
She said she was sure Senators would welcome the provision for extra childcare, 10,000 community and employment places and additional internships which the Bill contained.
“I’m sure Senators will be anxious to see the provisions that have been made in very difficult economic circumstances to get people back to work and to provide more childcare, particularly for women going back to work - I’m sure they will be anxious to see those implemented.”
The Minister deflected questions as to whether she could give the commitment that some Labour Senators sought for no further cuts to child welfare during the course of the Coalition, saying: “I’ll be listening to the debate in the Senate and I’m sure it will be a very lively and a very good debate.”
Ms Burton said that both the Labour Party and Fine Gael have a difficult job to do, but that next year should bring favourable results. "We are making some progress, not all the progress that people would like, but hopefully next year we will have further progress, particularly in relation to the burden of debt. The Government is working very hard to achieve that," she said.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, one of the Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad, said she would vote against the Bill.
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Ms O'Donnell said many Senators were “caught between the dancer and the dance”, between loyalty to their party and knowing that the cuts were “fundamentally wrong, profoundly wrong”.