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Government should go and go now – Ó Caoláin

11 December, 2012 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Speaking during the debate on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government this evening Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said;

“Fine Gael have shown the arrogance of those who believe that their rightful place is in office and that citizens have a duty to obey them. They are clearly imbued with the bullish attitude of their Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, whose Family Home Tax is a throwback to the days of landlord rule, the bailiff and the battering ram. And the Labour Party is clinging desperately to the Fine Gael juggernaut as it runs over the very people who elected Labour in the belief they would protect them.

“Shame on you - all of you.

“This Government should go and go now.”

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:


Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson

“I spent half an hour outside the gates of Leinster House today with parents of disabled children who are having their respite services removed…It is very clear that these parents are under terrible pressure. Due to a penny wise, pound foolish HSE initiative, which the Minister approves, they will lose their respite care. Parents who are getting on in years cannot cope without it and will give up, much and all as it will hurt them to do so, and these children will end up in full-time care, costing the State many multiples of the money required to provide respite care.”

Ceann Comhairle, these are not my words.

These are the words of Deputy James Reilly, Fine Gael Health Spokesperson, in this chamber on 7 July 2010. This is the Minister who, with his Cabinet colleagues in Budget 2013, has cut the respite care grant, in one of the meanest attacks on the vulnerable in many years.

Minister Reilly is also the Minister who is trebling prescription charges for medical card holders. The quote I have cited was from the debate on Mary Harney’s Bill to impose prescription charges. In that debate Deputy Reilly also stated:

“The Bill is vehemently opposed by the Opposition with good reason. It will be aimed at the most vulnerable, sickest and weakest in our society…. Anything that discourages people from taking their medicine results in them falling ill, developing complications and having to attend hospital, often being admitted. A single day in hospital more than wipes out the cost of drug treatment for an entire year for the vast majority of people. These might be savings in theory but, as has so often happened previously, they might transpire not to be savings at all…This 50 cent charge might not appear to be much to the Minister or me, but it is for many low income families. International research shows that any disincentive for people to take medicines should be avoided, as certain patients will inevitably end up in hospital….”

Every word of that is as true today as it was on 7 July 2010. Yet Minister Reilly has increased the charge from 50 cent per item to €1.50 and increased the monthly maximum to €19.50, as well as upping the Drugs Payment Scheme limit to €144.

A Minister and a Government that repeatedly trumpet their belief in the crucial role of primary care in our health system have undermined primary care with this rise in drugs charges for patients.

Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, in a radio interview, claimed that the Labour Party did not commit to the reversal of the prescription charges. Not true. In Labour’s ‘Plan for Fair Health Care’ published on 8 February 2011 it is stated:

“Medical card holders qualified for free drugs until this Government introduced a 50 cent per item prescription charge in 2010. Labour in Government will remove this charge. Medical card holders' free drugs cover will remain funded by the state from overall tax revenue. The State will also transfer this funding into the Primary Care Insurance Fund.”

This was less than two years ago. Last Wednesday Labour’s commitment was blatantly broken. And the words of Labour Party Health spokesperson, Jan O’Sullivan in the Dáil on 7 July 2010 in the debate on prescription charges are still true:

“The people who will be affected by it are the poor and the sick and they are not the people who should have charges imposed on them because of the drastic situation in our public finances. They are the very opposite of those who should have to pay. The Bill copper-fastens the inequalities in our society.”

I pointed out in that debate that when Government representatives were challenged their main argument was that it was a charge of only 50 cents per item and a €10 per month maximum. I said that was pure deception because the Bill empowered the Minister at any time in the future to make regulations to vary the charges. I said we knew this Minister and future Ministers would increase the prescription charges for medical card holders and I predicted that would happen if the Bill was passed. Deputy Reilly agreed with me. He said:

“It is clear that once the Minister gets this charge under the door, it will continue to increase. Is the Minister prepared to give an undertaking to the House that it will not happen?”

Of course Minister Harney never gave any such undertaking. But I little thought that within such a short time I would be standing here protesting at the imposition of a trebling of this very prescription charge by the Fine Gael and Labour Government which, in opposition, had promised to abolish it.

I have gone into detail on this one aspect of the budget because it illustrates clearly that not only is this government grossly unfair, it is also grossly dishonest. Minister Pat Rabbitte let the mask slip on the ‘Week in Politics’ last Sunday when asked if he had not violated Labour’s election commitment – ‘Protect Child Benefit – Vote Labour’.

“Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election” replied Minister Rabbitte.

And the dishonesty of this Government was summed up in another phrase of Deputy Rabbitte: “When the facts change I change my mind.”

The people are expected to believe that the economic facts changed fundamentally and magically between 24 February last year, the day before the General Election, and 26 February, when Fine Gael and Labour emerged as the parties of Government.

The people are expected to believe that when Labour and Fine Gael took office they found the economic situation much worse than they had ever believed, even though in opposition they had identified the depth of the economic crisis. Nonetheless they tried to hoodwink the electorate with promises they had no intention of keeping.

We in Sinn Féin warned that this would be the outcome because on economic fundamentals Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil were at one then and they are still at one now. That was shown when they stood together in support of the EU Austerity Treaty.

Budget 2013 has shredded whatever confidence there was in this government among the mass of people in this State.

Fine Gael have shown the arrogance of those who believe that their rightful place is in office and that citizens have a duty to obey them. They are clearly imbued with the bullish attitude of their Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, whose Family Home Tax is a throwback to the days of landlord rule, the bailiff and the battering ram. And the Labour Party is clinging desperately to the Fine Gael juggernaut as it runs over the very people who elected Labour in the belief they would protect them.

Shame on you – all of you.

This Government should go and go now.

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