People power has worked - keep it going - Ó Caoláin
Speaking at the rally organised by the Irish Senior Citizen's Parliament at Leinster House Today, Sinn Fein Dáil leader and Spokesperson on Health & Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
"I want to commend the senior citizens of this country for rocking the political system and for forcing a climb-down by the Government. People power has worked - now let's keep it going.
"We saw the way this Government thinks on RTÉ radio the day after the Budget when the Minister for Social and Family affairs Mary Hanafin actually said: 'Unfortunately our people are living longer.' Unfortunately for whom, Minister? For this Government we presume.
"What the Government have done on the medical card for over-70s does not go far enough but they would have done nothing if older people had not risen up, made their case in the clearest and strongest terms and demonstrated their anger on the airwaves and on the streets.
"We demand the full restoration of universal entitlement for the over 70s. How many people realise that in its own Programme for Government, the Fianna Fáil/Green/PD Coalition is actually committed to extending the medical card, not cutting it back. The Programme for Government promises to index the income thresholds for medical cards to increases in the average industrial wage and to double the income limit eligibility of parents of children under 6 years of age, and treble them for parents of children under 18 years of age with an intellectual disability.
"Access to health services should be based on need and need alone. Government spending on health should be in public health services only with access for everyone equally. This Government has refused to end its tax breaks for the developers of private hospitals. In 2006 alone that tax break cost €10.5 million and that would have funded 6,000 medical cards.
"We are constantly challenged when we raise the demand for universal public healthcare. 'Who will pay for this?' The question should be 'Who paid for this?' and the answer is 'You, the pensioners of Ireland. You paid for a decent health service in taxes during your working lives.'
"Don't forget that there are an awful lot of other health cuts arising out of this Budget. The Health budget was increased by a very small amount, way below inflation and this will lead to massive cuts in health services in 2009 - we haven't seen anything like the extent of it yet. The cost of medicines for patients has gone up. Charges for hospital visits have gone up.
"Those Government backbenchers who have rightly protested about this measure should be equally exercised about the whole range of other health cuts we will see in the months ahead.
"Finance Minister Lenihan said his Budget was a 'call to patriotic action'. The Minister and the Taoiseach should recall the patriotism of our senior citizens who worked all their lives, who paid taxes at much higher rates than people paid during the Celtic Tiger years, who made sacrifices so that their children and their grandchildren could enjoy a better Ireland. And if he wants to talk about patriotism let him recall the words of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil Éireann, the 90th anniversary of which we will mark next January. It said:
'The Nation's aged and infirm shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration'." ENDS