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Estimates signal early start of Fianna Fáil election campaign

18 November, 2004

Commenting on the publication of the Book of Estimates Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it signalled "the start of Fianna Fáil's General Election campaign". While welcoming positive aspects of the Estimates, including increased spending in a range of areas, Deputy Ó Caoláin expressed concern that the huge increase for the National Treatment Purchase Fund would re-enforce the unequal two-tier system in our health services. He also questioned the adequacy of estimates for Child Benefit and Carers‚ Allowance.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"These estimates, taken in tandem with recent populist statements by the Taoiseach, signal the early start of the Fianna Fáil General Election campaign. Very belatedly they are addressing some of the promises they left unfulfilled, most notably the extension of medical card cover.

"I welcome the widening of medical card qualification. This is something Sinn Féin called for in our pre-Budget submission and it is an essential measure, especially for families with children.

"While the GP only Medical Card is a significant development, it still falls short of what the Government committed to in 2002 when they promised to extend medical cards without qualification to a further 200,000 people.

"It is very significant that the biggest percentage increase in the Health estimate is the 43% rise in spending on the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

While this Fund has yielded some short-term improvements in waiting times it is pouring millions of public funds into the already bloated private health business. This will receive an additional €20 million next year. In the meantime the public system is struggling to cope due to a shortage of nurses and other staff.

"This Government has re-enforced the two-tier nature of the health system and there is nothing in these Estimates or in the Health Bill to indicate any change in direction. The opposite is the case. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for an end to health apartheid and for a public system with equal access for all based on need alone.

"I am very concerned at the drop of 9% in the estimate for building, equipping and furnishing of hospitals and other health facilities. Again these are public facilities which are not going to be developed at the same rate as in 2004 while private hospitals continue to be subsidised with generous tax breaks.

"I am also concerned that the allocation for Carer's Allowance has increased by just 2% and Child Benefit by 3%. These increases barely keep pace with inflation and offer little hope of the improvements necessary materialising in the Budget package on 1 December." ENDS

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