Finance Bill passes second stage


The Finance Bill is set to be passed in the Dáil after Independents Michael Lowry and Jackie-Healy Rae earlier announced they would vote in favour of it.

The second stage of the Finance Bill was debated this morning and passed by 80 votes in favour to 78 against in an electronic vote.

Fine Gael called for a “walk through” vote in the Dáil to force TDs to openly declare for or against. The walk through, which is the official record, showed a Government victory by three votes, 80 to 77, after independent Mattie McGrath abstained. The Bill has now moved to committee stage.

Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House ahead of the vote, Mr Lowry said he and Mr Healy-Rae had met earlier with Taoiseach Brian Cowen and, separately, with Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan. Mr Lowry said he outlined "four principle issues that I needed dealt".

Mr Lowry said he had requested changes to the universal social charge measure and a rethink of the decision to bring forward the preliminary tax payment date from the October 31st to September 30th. He said he had called for the Bill to allow for the taxation set-off of student fees against income.

He also said it was impossible to justify the omission of the 90 per cent tax on what he called "obscene bankers’ bonuses".

Mr Lowry said the four issues had been addressed. Three issues were resolved to his total satisfaction, while the matter of the universal social charge had been dealt with to his satisfaction on a partial level. “It was the best that I could do,” he said.

“It’s not parish pump politics,” he said. “The reality dawned on the Government this morning that I wasn’t going to vote for this Bill until such time as changes were made.”

When asked if he could support the legislation earlier, Mr McGrath said: “I am not too sure at this stage because I haven’t got the engagement that I expected to get and we’ll see what the morning brings.”

Mr McGrath said today he believed the Bill was being rushed through the Dáil without proper debate.

The fate of the Bill had rested in the hands of Mr Lowry, Mr Healy-Rae and Mr McGrath, who had threatened to withdraw their support for the Government unless the legislation was changed.

Wicklow TD Joe Behan confirmed last night he would vote in favour of the Bill in the national interest so that the State could adhere to the terms of the EU-IMF deal and continue to draw down the funding required to keep public services going.

Concluding this morning's debate, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan confirmed he would bring forward bankers' bonus amendment at the committee stage but stressed he needed all party co-operation for it to be passed. He also said the pay and file deadline will not now be brought forward

Speaking during this morning's debate Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North Michael Kennedy welcomed the changes to the Universal Social Charge for medical card holders.

He said the onus was on Fine Gael and Labour to ensure the Bill was passed and said that if the main Opposition parties "have any respect" for the people of Ireland they will make sure the budget passes today.

"I don't think it is reasonable that three independents should be the fall guys if this budget fails," he said.

Party colleague Ned O’Keeffe, who is stepping down at the next election, said the Government was being "held to ransom" by Independent TDs over "petty matters".

He paid tribute to the achievements of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny but was critical of former Fianna Fáil TD Mr McGrath who this week resigned from the party.

Fine Gael TD for Waterford John Deasy accused Fianna Fáil of putting the party interests ahead of the national interest. While welcoming some aspects of the Finance Bill, Mr Deasy's colleague Lucinda Creighton told the Dáil it lacked measures to stimulate growth and create jobs.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan conceded that the Bill was “even more important this year than in previous years”, but he expressed the belief that there was still a majority for it.