Government comes under further Budget pressure

 

The Government has come under further pressure over the October Budget today, a day after 25,000 pensioners and students protested in the capital.

Labour has published the wording of a Dáil motion calling on the Government to reverse its decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools, while doubt has raised about the double payment to social welfare recipients.

Fine Gael has warned it will oppose the Government’s decision to disqualify teenagers with disabilities aged 16 and 17 from claiming the Disability Allowance and it has also emerged today that there are no Government plans to change the policy that sees some State employees granted free city centre parking.

But, amid growing disquiet over the proposed education cutbacks in the Budget, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said: “Allocations have been made to all Departments in the Budget and the allocations stand”.

In the Dáil this morning, Labour TD Emmet Stagg claimed the Budget will require a record 17 separate pieces of
legislation to be passed through the Oireachtas. "It will be absolutely impossible without creating a legislative porridge, a total mess," he claimed. "Nobody will know where anything is in relation to the legislation.”

However, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said: “I have every confidence in the Opposition spokespersons of addressing these issues very quickly.

“It will be no bother to ye.”

She added: “I hear a lot of criticism that we have no legislation in the House, so now we have plenty of it and we’ll have plenty to do.”

The Labour motion on the education "deplores the series of educational cuts announced in the Budget and subsequently by the Minister for Education; expresses its serious concern at the damage these cuts will cause to the education system and to the future prospects of our children; and calls on the Government, in particular, to reverse the decision to increase class sizes at first and second level.”

It will be debated during Private Members' Time in the Dáil next Wednesday before being put to a vote on Thursday. Teachers are planning a protest at the Dáil to coincide with the debate.

Labour’s education spokesman, Ruairí Quinn, said today the Government cutbacks will cause “enormous damage” to the education system if they proceed.

A Fine Gael motion calling for a reversal of the decision to end automatic entitlement of the over-70s to a medical card was defeated by the Government last night.

In the vote, the Government had a majority of seven despite the defection to the Opposition of Joe Behan, who resigned from Fianna Fáil last week, and Independent TD Finian McGrath, who had supported the Coalition since the last election. Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry supported the Government.

A Government amendment to the Fine Gael motion was carried by 81 votes to 74. Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern went through the division lobby on crutches.

However, any sense of relief among Government TDs at winning the vote was diminished by the scale of street protests over medical cards and third-level registration fees earlier in the day outside the gates of Leinster House.

A protest organised by the Senior Citizens' Parliament in advance of the vote attracted 15,000 people, while 10,000 students protested at the gates of Leinster House in opposition to the Budget decision to increase third-level registration fees.

Speaking in China today, where he is on a trade mission, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government had come up with a "different solution" in the medical card controversy "which will hopefully meeting with broader public acceptance".

"Hopefully that will be seen as a response, a leadership responding to an issue and therefore one’s authority, while it’s not as high if you didn’t have the problem, it does mean that people say 'well he used his authority to come up with a solution in double-quick time that met with broader public acceptance'", Mr Cowen said.

Education is now set to be the big political issue in the week ahead with teachers threatening to send children home from school, as well as the Labour Party motion.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has attacked the Government over what it called an “outrageous and disproportionate attack on the farming community”.

The IFA is to hold a series of meetings of members around the country over how the Budget will affect farmers. The first will be held in Claremorris, Co Mayo, tonight. Further meeting are planned over the coming weeks.

IFA president Pádraig Walshe said farmers were angry at being targeted in the Budget. He claimed the cut in Disadvantaged Areas payments would hit the incomes of 40,000 farmers, while 54,000 farmers would be hit by changes to the Suckler Scheme.

In addition, farmers would be badly affected by the 1 per cent income levy. Taken together, these measures “contravened Government commitments that the weakest groups would not be targeted in the Budget”, Mr Walshe claimed.