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O Caoláin - Forget image change. Give us policy change

28 September, 2004

Sinn Féin TDs this morning stated that an image change for the Government by way of tomorrow's Cabinet reshuffle would be useless unless there were real changes in policy. And the party's Dáil leader and Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said speculation that PD leader Mary Harney would be given the Health portfolio was "alarming".

He said, "After the European and local elections the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern admitted that the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government lost the election and that the winners were Sinn Féin. A succession of Fianna Fáil backbenchers went to the media to say the Government was seen as too right wing and dominated by the policies of the PDs. Now Fianna Fáil wants to change its image in Government, showing that it 'listens to people' and is 'more caring'.

"The Government is trying to change its image because of the rise of Sinn Féin. If that makes the FF/PD Government also change some policies and deliver on some of their broken promises, well and good. All the more reason for people to continue to support Sinn Féin. What the people demand is real policy change and real delivery not just a change of image from Government. They need to deliver the goods not just shuffle the deck.

"There will be alarm in the Health services if, as reported, Mary Harney is to be made Minister for Health and Children. She is the leader of a party, the Progressive Democrats, which believes, according to its President, Michael McDowell, that inequality is good for society while we have one of the most inequitable health services in Europe. In their 2002 General Election manifesto the PDs, like Fianna Fáil, made promises on Health which they have broken. On medical cards they said: "We will ensure income eligibility criteria at least keep pace with movements in incomes." This promise was broken and there are now almost 100,000 fewer people with medical cards than when the FF/PD Government took office in 1997.

"After seven years of the PDs and Fianna Fáil in Government this State has the highest level of relative income poverty in Europe with 21 per cent of the population living on less than 60 per cent of median income (ESRI Report, September 2004). Unless this Government changes policy and strategy to use the massive resources available in our thriving economy to fund real reform and real improvements in health, education and social welfare, the Cabinet reshuffle will just be a change of faces, a mere shuffling of the deck." ENDS

NOTE TO EDITOR: Deputy O Caolain made his comments at a photo opportunity, involving the reshuffling of oversized novelty playing cards depicting various Government Ministers in Dublin today.

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