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Deferral of key Bill shows Government refusal to act on Health inequality – Ó Caoláin

23 September, 2008

Commenting on the publication by the Government of its Legislative Programme in advance of the return of the Dáil, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that a long-promised and key Bill on Health is being deferred again because the Government is unwilling to act on inequality in our Health system.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also expressed disappointment that the Enforcement of Fines Bill has disappeared altogether from the programme for Government.

Speaking today as the legislative programme was published he stated, "In the Legislative Programme published by the Government today a long-promised and key piece of legislation, promised earlier this year for publication in 2009 and first promised in January 2006 for publication that year, has now been relegated once again. The Government says it is 'not possible to indicate' when the Eligibility for Health & Personal Social Services Bill will be published.

"This Bill was supposed to clarify and update provisions relating to the eligibility of people to the services provided by the Health Service Executive. Any such Bill would have to tackle the gross inequality in our Health system and any debate on it would expose those inequalities.

"Last month the Institute of Public Health published an all-Ireland survey showing the depth of health inequality. It notes that in this State 38% of those at risk of poverty (i.e. living on an income of less than €202.50 per week) reported suffering from a chronic illness compared to 23% of the general population. It is estimated that over 5,000 people die prematurely each year in Ireland as a result of social deprivation, including health inequality.

"The Government has no will to tackle this. In Health it has reinforced inequality in a two-tier system and so it wishes to close down real debate as the deferral of this Bill indicates.

"The Enforcement of Fines Bill seems to have disappeared off the programme altogether. This is disappointing given the current economic climate and the potential savings that this Bill could provide through ending the use of custodial sentences for those unable to pay fines.

"Government rhetoric espouses using alternatives to custody where possible but the stalled progression of this bill is a typical example of inaction. It is widely recognised that this state overuses imprisonment as a penalty for the relatively minor and certainly non-violent crime of failure to pay fines.

"Given the sky-rocketing costs of imprisonment this Bill should have been progressed long ago. The Bill has sat at the tail end of the legislative programme for the last five years and now it has dropped off the government agenda altogether.

"The failure of the Justice Minister to capitalise on this potential saving makes it even clearer that his proposal to merge the Equality Authority, Human Rights Commission and Data Protection Commissioner has little to do with financial management and more to do with silencing critical voices." ENDS

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