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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Fianna Fail fury as Varadkar tries to delay pension hike until June

Leo Varadkar Picture: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar Picture: Tom Burke

Fianna Fail has warned that Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar's plan to delay a €5 increase in the old-age pension by up to six months is "not an option".

A row has developed between Mr Varadkar and Micheal Martin's party whose support is needed in order for next Tuesday's Budget to pass.

Mr Varadkar has indicated that he wants to increase social welfare payments for a range of people, not only pensioners.

These include carers, the disabled, the blind, widows, guardians of orphans and people on invalidity benefits.

However, he does not have enough money available to give an increase for the full year and therefore wants it to kick-in from June.

"This is about fairness and social justice. Nobody should be left behind," said a source close to the minister.

"These groups had their payments cut by €16 a week by Fianna Fail and have had no restoration.

"The only way we can poss-ibly afford this is to defer the payments until after January."

The attempt to delay the payment was met with derision by Fianna Fail.

Party finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the move "doesn't sound credible or realistic to us".

"We'll be making that clear. That's not an option," he said.

"We have to think of what people dependent on a social welfare payment will make of an announcement made seven or eight months ahead of when it actually kicks-in.

Scepticism

"I think they would view that with great scepticism. The improvements have to be tangible for people."

Fianna Fail's public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary said Mr Varadkar was trying to convince people that "he's cuddly and caring".

"I'm not convinced about the sudden cuddly, caring, sharing Leo Varadkar," he said.

Meanwhile, the Independent Alliance is continuing to seek additional measures ahead of Tuesday.

Sources said serious differences were aired among the five TDs during a meeting on Wednesday in relation to the group's "red line" issues.

Measures pushed for by the alliance include an extension of Vat refunds for house refurb- ishments for another two years.

Junior minister Sean Canney and Longford-Westmeath TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran are also pushing for an enhanced rural Ireland package.

This will include an improved sheep grant and the expansion of the rural social scheme.

The group has also sought confirmation that the money to beef up the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) will be made available from January.

It was agreed as part of the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael "confidence and supply" deal that €15m would be designated for the NTPF.

Sources close to the alliance said they were "holding firm" on their demands and are expecting potential further meetings with Public Expenditure Minis- ter Paschal Donohoe over the weekend.

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