We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath (left) and Dara Calleary. PA Wire/Press Association Images
Budget 2017

"Leo likes to make you think he is all cuddly and caring. That's not him"

Fianna Fáil said it does not support delaying the rise in the state pension.

FIANNA FÁIL SAYS it will not accept a major delay in an increase to the state pension, which is to be promised as part of Budget 2017.

It’s understood the government has been considering delaying the increase by several months so that it doesn’t kick in until mid-2017.

The government thinking behind postponing the rise is to allow other possible increases to be given to those on social welfare, such as disabled people, carers, blind people and widows.

However, Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath and Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said today that a six-month delay was “out of order”.

McGrath said Fine Gael is doing a Budget for 2017, “not half of 2017″.

“Starting in June or July does not seem to be credible or realistic to us,” he said.

“We won’t be rolled over”

When asked to clarify if the six-month lead-in was not a runner, Calleary said “absolutely”. He said he will be flexible so that benefits can spread to everyone.

“But we have priorities and we won’t be rolled over on them,” he added.

A government source said delaying the increase ”is about fairness and social justice”.

Nobody should be left behind. As Leo [Varadkar] highlighted in the Dail, the aim is to give carers, disabled, blind, and widows the same increase as pensioners. These groups had their payments cut by €16 a week by Fianna Fáil and have had no restoration. The only way we can possibly afford this is to defer the payments until after January.

Despite McGrath stating that negotiations with Fine Gael so far have been “business-like”, there appears to be some tensions mounting between the two parties.

“Some in Fine Gael have had a Damascus-like conversion to caring in recent days… I don’t buy this,” said Calleary.

“Leo likes to make you think he is all cuddly”

He didn’t hold back there. It was put to him that the €5 increase in the pension (which was Fianna Fáil’s Budget demand) is stopping Social Protection minister Leo Varadkar from increasing other social welfare payments.

Calleary was asked what he would do if he were in Varadkar’s position.

I certainly would never go down a route Leo is going down. Leo likes to make you think he is all cuddly and caring and that he suddenly walked into a phone  box and walked out with a cape of fairness – that’s not Leo. The Fine Gael way for doing things was deleted on the 26 February.
The Fine Gael way is taking medical cards off families that need them and that is a position he stood by while a minister and minister for health… I am not convinced by the sudden caring, sharing, cuddly Leo Varadkar.

He said Fianna Fáil are of the view that there is considerable old age poverty and that is why they are seeking an increase – one which McGrath said has not happened in over eight years.

McGrath said his party’s stamp is all over Budget 2017, claiming a number of key items would not be included if it weren’t for Fianna Fáil.

“We helped shape the it,” said McGrath, who went on to say his party argued for the pension hike, changes in the inheritance tax so that it benefits children as well as near relatives, the provision of a home care tax credit and no increase on excise for fuel.

Extra money 

However, all is not well in the partnership agreement between the two parties.

McGrath said the party was told for the last number of weeks there was only €1 billion to be spent. However, late last night it heard an extra €200 million had been found.

“The Budget parameters are changing late in the day,” he said.

When asked by if the party felt underappreciated by government for not informing them of the extra fiscal space, McGrath said:

I am not making any accusations to the government… but it seems this is the way it works, very late in the day, when all the numbers are joined up, something falls out and others move in. There are moving parts, eventually they arrive at a final figure.
…Reassurances had been given and repeated constantly, publicly, that the space was a billion, that was locked in, that it wouldn’t change – that appears to be not quite the case. From our point of view, it just means, we have to be careful.
He said being left in the dark, in some respects, created a difficulty for the party.
“If you are working to €1 billion and then all of a sudden it’s more than you have to recast your priorities,” he said.
Despite the breakdown in communication, he said:
We are going to honour our side – the alternative is another general election.

However, while McGrath said Fianna Fáil are willing to support this Budget, it won’t do it “at all costs” and the party won’t “sleep walk” into it either.

The party also has concerns about Fine Gael’s much-publicised first-time buyers grant. McGrath said he would prefer to see a full assessment of its impact, but concluded:

“It is not something we will be bringing the government down on.”

Separately, Labour has criticised Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for playing games on the pension increase.

“Any move to bring the increase back to March or April would mean a real increase of only €2.50 a week in 2017,” said Labour senator Kevin Humphreys.

Read: 64 people arrested by gardaí in massive Thor crackdown in Carlow and Kilkenny

Read: ‘Monster’ storm heads for US after killing over 300 in Haiti

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.