Coalition tensions over increments simmer on

 

THE APPOINTMENT of a slimmed-down team of junior ministers and growing tensions between the Coalition parties over the long service increment paid to TDs will dominate political debate when the Dáil resumes today after the Easter break.

There were some indications last night that Mr Cowen may go somewhat further than expected in his reshuffle and drop more than five of the outgoing junior team, particularly because of the need to ensure a gender balance.

However, Mr Cowen had not by last night contacted even Cabinet colleagues about his plans. He will put a list to the Cabinet at its meeting this morning, and the new appointments are likely to be made by mid-afternoon.

Government Chief Whip Pat Carey and Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews, who both currently sit at Cabinet, are regarded as safe; so too are Minister of State for Europe Dick Roche, Minister of State for Drugs Strategy John Curran; and former Green Party leader Trevor Sargent – Minister of State for Food.

Last night Fine Gael criticised the Government for not going far enough. Frontbench spokesman Alan Shatter published a Bill calling for the second ministerial string to be cut from 20 to 12. Mr Shatter said that while the reduction to 15 was welcome the absence of legislation to reduce the maximum number of junior ministers meant that the positions could be filled again in the future.

The continuing row over the announcement by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in the Budget that TDs would no longer receive long-service increments has caused strains between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, and within Fianna Fáil.

Some younger Fianna Fáil TDs, who will not get the increment and already enjoy worse pension prospects than their older colleagues, are furious that they are taking criticism about the increments.

In the 166-member Dáil 66 TDs with seven years service or more are entitled to a long service increment of €3,100-a-year. The payment rises to €6,400 annually, on top of their salary of just over €100,000 after 10 years.

In his Budget speech, Mr Lenihan said: “Deputies will no longer receive long service payments or increments.” When questioned about it at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that night he said it would not apply to those already getting them.

Since then there has been confusion about the measure and the Green Party leader, John Gormley, has proposed that TDs should voluntarily give them up.

Some longer-serving FF TDs have said they will not relinquish their increments voluntarily.

Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central Noel O’Flynn said it would not be fair to ask TDs to give up the increment unless it was also withdrawn from principal officers in the civil service.

On RTÉ Radio’s News at One he said Mr Lenihan had made it clear on Budget night at the Fianna Fáil meeting that the measure would not apply to TDs already in receipt of the payment.

However, Green Party Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, said it was his understanding that it would apply to TDs with current increments.

He called on TDs to relinquish it voluntarily.