SENATOR James Heffernan, who is expected to be expelled from the Labour parliamentary party after voting against aspects of the Social Welfare Bill in the Seanad, has accused his party of lying to the electorate.
Senator Heffernan said the decision to vote against the government on child benefit and respite care grant cuts this Wednesday evening was taken because he wanted to remain true to his word and he felt that the cuts were “just wrong”.
“I made my point that these cuts are unfair. I said last night [Tuesday] in the Seanad that I walked the roads of Limerick not so long ago. I met with people who were in dire straits who had to make a choice between bringing their child to a doctor or paying a mortgage that they couldn’t afford.”
The Kilfinane native said that “a solemn pledge” was given when he was “going door to door in Kilfinane, Kilmallock, Bruff and all the other towns and villages in Limerick, that his party would not cut child benefit and “that pledge is now broken”.
“And in good conscience I cannot be party to that. I promised people in desperate circumstances, hard-working middle income earners that I would do what I could to make things better for them,” he said in a statement.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader prior to voting against the government, Senator Heffernan said that it was wrong that his party were put in a position “where they had lied to the people”.
“We should never had let ourselves be put in that position. I blame people who negotiated the deal for that and people who gave those commitments during the election. If they couldn’t have been lived up to then they shouldn’t have been made,” said Senator Heffernan.
The former primary school teacher described the broken promises in relation to the Social Welfare Bill as “embarrassing for the party” but added that he was not going to feel ashamed himself.
“I’m not going to lie to people. I didn’t lie to people. I promised people that I would help them and do what I could for them. I was very realistic about what I could and couldn’t do,” he said.
He said that meetings which have taken place with party leader Eamon Gilmore and social protection minster Joan Burton in recent days, did not result in assurances that “I could hang my hat on”.
Senator Heffernan said he expects to be called to a meeting with party leadership in the coming days.
Meanwhile, a Labour spokesperson has said suggestions that Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore announced at a meeting of the parliamentary party that he intends to remove party membership from five TDs and Senator Heffernan are “entirely untrue”.