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Anger in Labour over the shafting of Joan

LABOUR chiefs were today trying to reassure Joan Burton's colleagues that she wasn't "shafted".

As the controversy over her appointment as Social Protection Minister rumbled on, senior figures were playing down its impact on the Coalition.

But Ms Burton remained notably silent apart from a short comment to the Herald in which she claimed "everyone is delighted".

She had been widely tipped to get the Public Expenditure and Reform brief because of her experience as Finance spokeswoman for almost a decade.

Other women TDs within the party were furious that she was overlooked but officials have repeatedly denied that it was a case of the deputy leader being dropped in favour of the "old boys' club".

Ms Burton is Labour's deputy leader and was one of the party's most high-profile critics of the Fianna Fail/Green Party Coalition's handling of the country's economy.

But in a surprise move, Labour leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, gave the Dublin West TD the Social Protection job instead causing anger within party ranks.

Brendan Howlin,who got the key Public Expenditure and Reform post, said it was true Joan Burton had fulfilled the role of Finance spokesman for nine years, but added there were several Labour TDs who had the competence.

Ms Burton has maintained a dignified silence on the issue. Her spokesman said she would not be making any comment but was looking forward to getting stuck into her brief.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he believed Mr Howlin's previous experience as senior minister in two separate departments stood to him.

"He has the experience, he knows what a full Cabinet post is and I suspect that was one of the reasons why Eamon gave him that job," Mr Quinn said.

Mr Howlin said of Ms Burton: "There is no Cabinet position that she wouldn't grace with complete competence and that's true of any number of people within my party."

A Fine Gael Cabinet source also tried to downplay the issue, saying Ms Burton and Mr Howlin sat next to each other at yesterday's Cabinet meeting and there were clearly no tensions.

"Joan has got a big department; a good bit of the Fas budget is gone to Social Protection," the senior minister said. "I don't know what all the fuss is about."

Elsewhere, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has a battle on his hands to convince Germany's Angela Merkel to support a lowering of the interest rate on Ireland's €85bn bailout.

Ahead of a summit of EU leaders, Ms Merkel has insisted that the price of such a deal was an increase in Ireland's corporation tax.

Mr Kenny was pushing for a lowering of the 5.8pc interest rate and an end to the protection of senior bank bondholders.

Mr Merkel indicated yesterday she was prepared to ease the burden of the bailout terms -- but only if the Government compromised on the corporate tax rate of 12.5pc.

mlavery@herald.ie