The Irish Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Independent TDs needed for budget to pass after McDaid quits

STEPHEN COLLINS, HARRY McGEE and COLM KEENA

THE RESIGNATION of Donegal TD Jim McDaid has left the Government at the mercy of two Independents to get one of the toughest budgets in the State’s history through the Dáil.

With the departure of Dr McDaid the Coalition’s Dáil majority is now 82 to 79 for the combined Opposition. That majority includes the two Independent TDs, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae.

Mr Lowry said yesterday there was now a serious danger that the budget would not be passed. He told The Irish Times he would decide how he would vote on or near budget day.

“Obviously Jackie Healy Rae’s and my support is now more crucial than it has been in the past, but in my mind all of the time is that the country is on the brink of losing its economic independence,” he said.

“I believe an election is inevitable, but I don’t believe the political parties should use the economy to force an election. The issues of the day should be addressed and then let us consider the timing of an election.”

The support of the other Independent Mr Healy Rae is contingent on the Government honouring the deal he entered into with it, according to his son Michael.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan rejected Dr McDaid’s argument for an immediate general election, saying it would have very negative consequences.

“I find it very difficult to see how we can have a general election in the midst of the type of international financial difficulties we are facing at present and how it will assist us in any way. In the absence of that option I think it’s vital that everybody in the Dáil understands the implications of his and her vote on the plan and this budget,” he said.

Mr Lenihan announced that Government would disclose tomorrow the size of the adjustment it intends to make next year. The Opposition will be briefed on the figure and on projections for economic growth over the next four years.

In his letter of resignation to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil yesterday, Dr McDaid said he was standing down for “purely personal reasons”. However, he wrote to Taoiseach Brian Cowen last Thursday saying that he had been advocating a general election for some time and expressing the view that the Dáil should be dissolved before the budget scheduled for December 7th.

He said that after two years the Government had failed to make any significant progress in reducing the structural budget deficit. “This will continue for as long as the current Dáil arithmetic prevents decisive action being undertaken by a sitting Government,” said Dr McDaid.

“The continuing, and deepening, absence of certainty in relation to Government support in the Dáil has resulted in necessary decisions being postponed in the hope that future events will make those decisions unnecessary. In such circumstances the political decision-making ability atrophies and spin becomes the significant tool.”

Dr McDaid said the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the IMF and the bond markets did not have confidence in Ireland as they regarded this Government as a temporary little arrangement with another waiting in the wings.

“I am a citizen first and a member of Fianna Fáil second. At this point, I believe that it is in the best interests of the people of Ireland that the Government of Ireland has a working majority in the Dáil of at least 20 seats, even if that Government compromises parties who have traditionally stood in opposition to Fianna Fáil. And I hope that Government will have the strength to take on their obvious responsibilities, free from the shackles of social partnership and political Dutch auctions.”

Dr McDaid’s letter was acknowledged by an official in the Taoiseach’s department last Friday but Mr Cowen, who was at a European Council meeting in Brussels, did not get it until yesterday. The letter contained no request for a meeting or for any action on Mr Cowen’s part.

The president of the High Court is expected to rule today on Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty’s challenge to the Government’s 16-month delay in moving the writ for the Donegal South West byelection.

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