Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Budget 2009 a package of savage cuts

15 October, 2008

Speaking from the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described Budget 2009 as "a Budget of savage cuts in public services and widespread new charges and taxes that will penalise those on low to middle incomes."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"It is quite amazing that the Minister for Finance described Budget 2009 as a "call to patriotic action". Where were the calls to the wealthy to be patriotic during the Celtic Tiger years? Many of the so-called patriots, the tycoons and multi-millionaires who were pampered by this Government, are tax exiles who pose as great Irishmen and women when they are in this country but who hide their riches away in tax havens so they don't have to pay their fair share here.

"For those who weren't tax exiles there were massive tax breaks throughout the terms of office of Fianna Fáil-led governments over the past decade. The wealthy were allowed to avoid tax in a myriad of different ways while ordinary PAYE workers bore the burden as they always have. Property was God and Charlie McCreevy was the High Priest, followed closely by the present Taoiseach in his years as Finance Minister.

"On the very day of the Budget one of the largest hospitals in the country, the Lourdes in Drogheda, was turning away emergency medical and surgical cases because their Accident & Emergency department could not cope. Then we saw the minimal increase in the Health budget for 2009. It is well below inflation and will lead to massive cutbacks across the health services. I have no doubt that people will suffer and die avoidable deaths as a result.

"Means testing for medical cards for older people is being reintroduced, another example of the totally incoherent health policy of this Government. The automatic entitlement for the over-70s was introduced with great fanfare and now it is being taken away, causing huge confusion, anger and distress to older people. Sinn Féin said when this scheme was introduced that if the principle of universal entitlement was accepted for the over 70s then it should be accepted for all. But now the Government has taken a further step away from the type of universal public healthcare that we desperately need. At the same time people are being forced to pay higher charges for A&E visits and for medicines.

"Even before this Budget the public health system was being hit hard by cuts. Home help hours have been cut. In my own North East region we've seen cuts in orthopaedic services and dermatology. I learned yesterday that there is a five year waiting list for dermatology in Tallaght Hospital. Surgical beds at Dundalk are to be reduced from 32 to 8 from next Monday. And the axe continues to fall on services at Monaghan General Hospital where all acute medical services are scheduled to transfer to Cavan by the end of next month.

"Over the summer we saw in Dundalk Hospital two senior doctors let go, in Crumlin Children's Hospital a ward closure affecting children with cystic fibrosis, in Letterkenny a 20-bed ward closed for the summer and a scaling back of day services. And these are but a few of the cuts. I shudder to think what now awaits us in the public health services in 2009. What now of the 2007 Green Party manifesto which said: "Access to appropriate healthcare is a basic human right."

"The cost to the Exchequer of tax breaks to developers of private hospitals rose from €1.9 million in 2004 to €10.6 million in 2006. The cost in 2006 alone would have funded over 6,000 extra full medical cards for a year.

"It is a myth that spending on public services has been too high. Before this Budget we were already spending the third least on public services in the EU, followed only by Estonia and Lithuania.

"Well managed short to medium-term investment will often yield medium to long-term savings, as other direct and indirect costs are reduced. The health service is the prime example of how cuts and under funding which were seen as short-term have had the unintended consequence of driving up costs and significantly reducing efficiency in the longer-term. Thus "value for money" is complex, can only be accurately gauged in the medium to long-term, and cannot always be equated with spending less. That is a lesson this Government refuses to learn and they are leaving a terrible legacy for the future.

"The Budget is very bad news for the Border region. We will suffer health cuts more than most. There is a major question mark over the completion of the N2/A5 realignment from Monaghan town to the Border which includes the proposed by-pass of Emyvale, and Monaghan military barracks is to close, removing another local source of social and economic activity.

"Over the past decade the inequalities in this economy have been repeatedly identified and analysed, and positive policies promoted by the Combat Poverty Agency. This Budget which will foster further inequality and poverty is also the Budget that has tried to gag the Combat Poverty Agency, a move I can only describe as breathtaking in its arrogance. The future of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service has also been put in doubt, a service that will be needed more than ever after this Budget."

"In conclusion I want to emphasise what I have said outside this chamber. This Budget is a recipe for emigration and Brian Lenihan will be standing at the airport to take €10 flight tax out of the emigrants' pocket as they leave. Sinn Féin rejects this Budget as we reject the policies which fostered inequality, which led directly to this recession and which have now spawned this monstrous Budget. We will oppose this Government, defend public services and promote policies that will create employment and revive our economy based on sound foundations." ENDS

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