Labour Party Senator John Whelan is today on the verge of a decision that could have big impact on his political career and the outcome of the next General Election in Laois.
The Senator revealed that he will decide today (Tuesday) on whether to support the Government in a Senate vote on the Social Welfare Bill which has cut children’s allowance and benefits for carers. Sen Whelan told the Leinster Express that he would decide after meeting with the Minister for Social Welfare, Joan Burton this afternoon on whether to stay in the trenches with other members and face expulsion by voting against.
He said he had embarked on an intense round of consultation in the party and his community over his future. This included a meeting in Portlaoise last weekend of Laois Offaly members.
“It is not a decision I could take lightly or taken in isolation from the people who are members, supporters and the community who have invested a trust in me,” he said.
Sen Whelan said he was in constant contact with senior Labour figures including Jack Wall TD who is chairman of the parliamentary party.
“I don’t intend to let this matter drag out to turn it into a circus or play political games. It is too serious. I will be declaring my decision in the senate evening before 5.30pm,” he said.
On the cuts proposed Sen Whelan said he was disgusted at the cuts.
“I have made it clear how disgusted I am along with so many other supporters on the ground. We feel a great sense of betrayal in relation to what we felt were solemn pledges going into the General Election to protect the most vulnerable.
“The carers respite cut does not pass that test. We also said we would prevent Fine Gael in Government from cutting child benefit. Apart from the breach of trust of the solemn commitment it also flies in the face of the pledged to reform politics...The breach of that promise made a liar of me and those who believed in it and put up those posters,” he said.
Sen Whelan was among those at an emergency meeting of Labour members at a Laois Offaly meeting held in Portlaoise.
“The underlying message was that there was a great deal of disillusionment with the manner at which the party was being rolled over on its preelection pledges,” he said.
He said people had different views on Colm Keaveney but they gave “resounding endorsement” for the Galway TD to remain on as chairman of the party. A letter of support was sent to Dep Keaveney backing his role as party chairman.
The senator challenged Pat Rabbitte call on Labour TDs and senators to stay in the “trenches” and support the tough decisions.
“The remarks have not been helpful and some have been quite incendiary and personalised and did not serve a constructive purpose. If we are democrats people should respect everyone else’s mandate and the right to have their own opinion,” he said.
Sen Whelan said politicians were under enough attack without “Pat Rabbitte adding fuel and fat to the fire”. He said politicians are now victims of cyber-bullying.
“I have never witnessed the level of vitriol and abuse particularly on Twitter and Facebook which would be a form of cyber-bullying. While we have to be thick skinned because we are in politics, I think that it if it was in any other walk of life or job it would certainly constitute bullying.
“There is a limit to what is acceptable. It is time for people to consider what is fair minded and what is acceptable when making your views known to the point of being personally viciously abusive,” he said.
The Laois senator said loyalty works both ways.
“I don’t think you can be an a la carte member of a party or the Government. However, loyalty is a two-way process. I would have thought that when the party leader (Eamon Gilmore) made a solemn pledge to protect child benefit he would thought loyalty is based on trust and integrity and honesty...I certainly at no stage set out to mislead anybody.
“I was brought up simply and my mother always said all you have is your good name and your word and your word is your bond,” he said.
Sen Whelan said that as a senator he has a responsibility to hold the Government of the day to account albeit as creatures of an outmoded archaic whip system which means that voting against the Government means expulsion.
As to whether voting no would enhance his prospect as a independent candidate in the new Laois constituency, Sen Whelan said it could be seen other wise.
“I am dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t. Cynics would say that if I vote against the Government I am doing it just to be populist and to save my own political hide. Some other cynics would say that by voting with the Government I would have no backbone. For my own part you have to move past the value system that your only objective is to be elected,” he said.
He said he would declare his view in the Senate this evening ahead of the vote which will take place by the end of the week.