Dublin govt under threat amid budget backlash
Dublin govt under threat amid budget backlash

Brian Cowen may be forced to back down on elements of last week’s budget amid signs that the stability of his 26-County coalition government is under threat.

The hostile statements by various TDs in, or aligned to, the Coalition parties, coupled with the sudden resignation of the new Fianna Fail TD for Wicklow, Joe Behan, amounts to a dual challenge to the authority and credibility of Brian Cowen’s government.

The greatest criticism over the plethora of new taxes and spending cuts announced in last week’s budget concerned plan to remove health benefits from most pensioners over the age of seventy.

The budget, which set out the state’s grim financial position for 2009, also included a highly controversial levy on all personal income of at least an additional 1%.


In his resignation letter, Wicklow TD Joe Behan said he was “appalled” at the decision to end the principle of universality of medical card provision for people over 70 years of age, as well as other budget threats to child benefits and education.

“I have now regrettably come to the conclusion that enough is enough,” he said.

“Put simply, the youngest and the oldest in our society are being asked to pay the price for the present financial and budgetary situation.

“This is unacceptable to me but I sincerely believe it is also unacceptable to the vast majority of members and public representatives in Fianna Fail.”

Sinn Féin Wicklow councillor John Brady said Mr Behan’s resignation was “an honourable departure from a dishonourable party” and a a “breath of fresh air”. Behan was “a man wrecked by guilt and shame at the record of this Government,” he said.

There has also been strong criticism from the government’s other TDs and party councillors, amid evidence of vacillation and stalling tactics by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

Some of the Independent TDs supporting the Government have publicly stated that they have serious issues with the budget and one, Finian McGrath, has publicly withdrawn his support. A member of the Green Party, which is in coalition with Fianna Fail, is also set to vote against the government in a motion on the subject before the Dublin parliament on Wednesday.


Meanwhile, there has been speculation that the source of the medical cards proposal, the Minister for Health and former Progressive Democrats leader, Mary Harney, will resign if there is a climb-down.

In an attempt to quell public anger, Cowen announced he postponed his week-long trip to China until tomorrow as the furore showed no sign of easing.

Mr Cowen said he wanted to find a solution that was broadly acceptable. He said it was difficult to communicate the extent of the state’s grave economic situation and he appealed for “time and space”.

Large crowds are expected to attend a protest rally tomorrow in the Dublin organised by Age Action Ireland.

Fine Gael’s finance spokesman, Richard Bruton, accused the government of “pulling the mat out” from under elderly people who need secure access to health care.

“If there are savings to be made, I’m all for them,” Mr Bruton said. “But you can’t just trick around with people who are vulnerable in that situation and I think [the Government] have to just forget about this.”


Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has also now indicated the Government is prepared to review aspects of the controversial 1% levy introduced in the Budget.

Mr Bruton claimed today Mr Lenihan had made “an awful mess” with the income levy. “I can understand the frustration of Fianna Fail backbenchers because this budget is unravelling because it simply wasn’t thought out,” Mr Bruton told Irish radio.

“There are basic principles of fairness at stake here. You don’t tax the poorest and that’s what he did with the levy,” he said. “We thought the Budget was to protect the vulnerable and tax the fat cats and to protect the front line and save in the bureaucracy, and they got it the other way around.”

Vice President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton said the budget “targets those who profited least” from the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ of the past ten years “whilst those who profited most go largely unscathed”.

“The Dublin administration’s neo-liberal economic agenda coupled with a cosy relationship with developers and the banks resulted in a free for all of easy credit, massive debt and huge profits for a small minority,” he said.

“Now that the house of cards has collapsed tax payers money is being used to bail out the banks without any regulation and it is working people who are being forced to foot the bill.”


Speaking in Kerry, Sinn Féin Party President Gerry Adams accused the Green Party and others of being part of a government “which punishes the young and the elderly and then describes this as a call to patriotic duty”.

“The government presented no new ideas for economic recovery. Instead the people of this state now face savage cuts and additional taxes of an unprecedented nature,” Mr Adams said.

“This government has never been about the redistribution of wealth or utilizing the economy in the common good. It has always been about looking after its cronies. People are increasingly seeing through this.

“Budget 2009 also saw the reintroduction of means testing for medical cards for the elderly. Fianna Fail has never had any real commitment to the provision of universal healthcare but this decision exposes that position as never before.

“The Green Party and others may back-pedal, and backbench TDs may protest ,but this is a government which punishes the young and the elderly, and then describes this as a call to patriotic duty!

“Despite all the problems in the Executive in the North last month, the Health Minister announced that free medical prescriptions would be introduced for everyone there.

“And the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is a Unionist!

“The northern Executive is far from being a republican institution but its action on this matter is in marked contrast to the disgraceful Thatcherite approach of Fianna Fail.

“Healthcare and education are basic rights and all citizens are entitled to them. That is the democratic and republican position. The Fianna Fail budget is punitive and anti-citizen. It is also anti-republican.”

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