Senators have an opportunity to prove their worth this week by voting against the Social Welfare Bill and throwing it back to the Dáil for amendment, Galway East TD Colm Keaveney has said.
Speaking in the wake of criticism of his own decision to vote against the Bill in the Dáil, Deputy Keaveney said politicians need to reflect on the human cost of budget measures.
The Social Welfare Bill is due to be discussed in the upper house over the next two days and Deputy Keaveney said that, if the bill is rejected and returned to the Dáil, he would have confidence that the amendments necessary to make it a fair budget would be introduced.
This was echoed by Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh this week, who urged Labour and Fine Gael backbenchers to “vote with their conscience” against the bill, giving stakeholders more time to lobby those who supported it in the Dáil first time around.
“There is so much talk about how relevant is the Seanad, this could be the one opportunity we get to show, in the life of this Seanad, that we actually can make a huge difference by people standing up to be counted,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Meanwhile, Deputy Keaveney has said he will not be getting involved in a “Punch and Judy show” with senior Labour Parliamentary Party members in the wake of his decision to vote against the Social Welfare Bill.
His comments come after suggestions from Party Leader Eamon Gilmore, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte and Chief Whip Emmet Stagg that Deputy Keaveney’s position as Labour Chairperson is “untenable” following his resignation of the party whip.
Deputy Keaveney said there has been some “harsh reaction” from senior figures in the party “who should have known different”, adding that some comments were about “playing the man and not the ball”.
He added that such personal attacks on him were a “pathetic” distraction from issues such as the fact that Labour’s pre-election commitment to protect child benefit has not been honoured in Budget 2013.
“I’m not going to get involved in a Punch and Judy show with senior politicians in the party, that’s not in the interest of the party,” he said, adding that he has the height of respect for party colleagues such as Deputy Derek Nolan for remaining “dignified” in the wake of his surprise move to the Opposition benches.
On the topic of his tenure as party chair, Deputy Keaveney said: “Constitutionally they have no right to take away something that was given to me by the grassroots of the organisation. If it was a gift of the leader I wouldn’t have it in the first place; Eamon Gilmore never wanted me to have it at the outset, so it’s no great surprise to me that he doesn’t want it now.”
He added that he was grateful to the “fair-minded” people who understood his decision to vote against the Social Welfare Bill, which he said was the most difficult decision he has ever had to make.
“But with politics, sometimes the parliamentary process develops some form of bubble where people can lose connection with decisions and the implications for decisions.
“It was a very human decision that we were making and I remain faithful to what I always said on the doorsteps. I fundamentally agree that we were elected to restore economic circumstances but I thought that the premier commitment was to bring people through this, particularly children, and I didn’t want to not remain faithful to that,” he said.
Deputy Keaveney’s former parliamentary party colleague Deputy Derek Nolan said he regretted Deputy Keaveney’s decision to vote against the Government.
“I would have preferred if he had stayed in the party but I know he made the decision on principle,” he said, adding that party members were “shocked” by the Galway East TD’s decision.
He also reiterated that the other Labour TDs who voted for the Budget “felt they were doing the right thing for the country” following considerable internal debate.
“There’s a resolve there to see government through and to explain to people better just how serious the situation is in the country.”
When asked if Deputy Keaveney’s position as Chair of the Labour Party is “untenable”, Deputy Nolan said: “It is a decision he would have to make himself, whether he thinks it’s in the best interest of the party.”