Ahern tells parliamentary party to brace themselves

 

The Taoiseach Mr Ahern was today attempting to ease party tensions in the wake of mounting criticism over the state of Exchequer finances and the Stadium Ireland fiasco.

In a special parliamentary party meeting in Killarney, Mr Ahern is understood to have told a closed session of Fianna Fáil TDs and senators: "stiffen up boys, we've been here before."

He warned party members that the situation was unlikely to improve prior to the Budget, but he insisted the economy was in a healthy state.

Mr Ahern is also understood to have briefed members extensively on the background to Stadium Ireland.

Before the meeting, the Taoiseach dismissed reports that he was facing a wave of discontent from disgruntled Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

He said: "There was concern but not disquiet."

An economic briefing by the Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy, planned for tomorrow, was moved forward to this afternoon.

Party sources said Mr McCreevy's briefing was brought forward to allay concern about the state of the Nation's finances.

Mr McCreevy is understood to warned colleagues that tough decisions will have to be made in the next Budget to ensure that the growth in Government spending can be kept below nine per cent next year.

The Minister for Education, Mr Dempsey, is also understood to have promised a greater communication flow to backbenchers.

It is understood the decision by the Minister Mr Dempsey to increase college registration fees without consulting TDs beforehand particularly annoyed TDs.

The two-day meeting was called to discuss to the party's strategy for the Nice Treaty campaign.