Lowry and Healy-Rae to decide budget stance today


INDEPENDENT TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae are to announce their voting intentions today on one of the toughest and most critical budgets for many years.

Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-East Lucinda Creighton said she would consider abstaining on the budget if Mr Lowry and Mr Healy-Rae failed to support it. She said her party had a similar responsibility.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan last night said the budget, to be announced by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan tomorrow, would include a reduction in politicians’ pay and pensions.

“All these pensions and salaries will be reduced accordingly on the basis that, although people have forgotten that we did take massive reductions in ministerial pay, as did the Taoiseach last year, all politicians took reductions in their salaries and their expenses on the basis that others had to do with less and they would have to do with less,” she said on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

The Government currently has a majority of two in the Dáil, including Mr Lowry and Mr Healy-Rae.

If the two Independents abstain on the vote it could be tied. If they vote against it the budget will face defeat unless some Opposition TDs abstain or vote for it.

Mr Lowry, who represents Tipperary North, said he and his colleague from Kerry South would make a clear-cut decision.

“We will not abstain, we will vote either for or against, and both will be doing the same. The issues are too serious for a weak response such as abstention,” he said.

Although there is a general expectation in political circles that the two deputies will support it, Mr Lowry said last night he had not made up his mind as yet and would be meeting local councillors who supported him for a discussion of the issue.

Asked about his continuing contacts with the Government, he said: “I am anxious to get a number of local and national issues confirmed and clarified.”

Even at this late stage, he added: “I have an open mind.” He was also speaking on behalf of Mr Healy-Rae and they are likely to make their joint announcement this evening.

Mr Lowry rejected suggestions that approval of a “super-casino” in Two-Mile Borris in his constituency was a critical issue. “That is not a demand that I made.” He was aware a report on updating the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 was in preparation.

“I have not used it as a bargaining-tool,” he said. He would like to see the legislative framework changed so that permission could be sought for projects such as the one intended for Two-Mile Borris. The project would create jobs in the area but it was not on his budget shopping-list: “I don’t have one.” Asked if it was a “deal-breaker”, he replied: “No”.

Other sources confirmed yesterday that the report on the gaming legislation was being finalised and is expected to be brought to Cabinet in the next two or three weeks.

The Government majority also includes three Fianna Fáil TDs currently without the whip, including Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath, who has been a vocal critic of some Government policies and the Fianna Fáil leadership. He said last night he had not made up his mind yet on the budget.

His decision on how to cast his vote would depend on “how much taxation is going to be got from the elites that are running the country”.

Dublin North-Central Independent Finian McGrath said he had not made up his mind either and his decision would be based on the treatment of “people with disabilities, cystic fibrosis patients, small businesses, senior citizens and social welfare recipients”.

Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-East Ms Creighton said as the party “that is about to lead the country”, Fine Gael had “responsibilities to ensure that the budget goes through”. A party spokesman said: “We cannot support a budget we haven’t seen from a Government we can’t trust.”

Cuts in social welfare payments are expected to include a reduction of €8 or €9 in the Jobseeker’s Allowance. Child benefit will be cut by 10 per cent and the airport travel tax is likely to be cut from €10 to €2.