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"Marxist" Fianna Fáil's Estimates fail to address persistent inequalities

25 November, 2004

Speaking during the debate on the Book of Estimates in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said that the Estimates "fail to properly address the persistent inequalities in Irish society".

While welcoming the "long overdue extension of the medical card qualification" to an extra 30,000 people Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to accuse the Government of cynically introducing the GP only medical cards for purely electoral purposes. "A medical card that does not cover the cost of medicines is debased coinage," he said.

Full text of speech follows:

"These Estimates cannot be understood without looking at the political background to them. They come in the wake of the Taoiseach‚s statement that he is a true republican and a true socialist. It may come as a surprise to many people that I have always regarded Fianna Fáil as a Marxist party. But the Marx they follow is not Karl - it's Groucho. Because it was Groucho Marx who once said:

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

"You couldn't find a better description of Fianna Fáil's populism. They have won the admiration of politicians in Ireland and everywhere for their ability to retain political power and electoral support by being all things to all people.

"Their eye is constantly on the main chance. They always have to know what way the wind is blowing and like the politician during the French Revolution they are always likely to declare: "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

"After the EU and Local Elections we had the carefully choreographed parade to the plinth by the backbenchers to lament Fianna Fail‚s worst electoral performance for decades and to blame the PDs. One Fianna Fáil Deputy said the PDs would be better called the 'Oppressive Democrats'. Another said what was needed was less PD policy. And Deputy Conor Lenihan said the Government was perceived as right wing.

"That was the first phase in Fianna Fáil‚s massive public relations exercise to try to regain support. Then we had the long drawn out Cabinet reshuffle, in which some of those same back benchers were promoted. The next phase was when the Taoiseach changed his anorak from light blue to light red. The latest phase is the Book of Estimates the Minister is asking us to approve here today.

"Taken in tandem with the populist statements by the Taoiseach, these Estimates signal the early start of the Fianna Fáil General Election campaign.

"I have stated on several occasions since last June that if the electoral success of Sinn Féin and our increased mandate at local government and EU parliament level prompted this Government to adopt some progressive measures, well and good. All the more reason for the people to support Sinn Féin in greater numbers.

"I have welcomed the long overdue widening of medical card qualification to a further 30,000 people. But that‚s still 170,000 short of what was promised before the General Election. And there are over 100,000 fewer people with medical cards than when this Government took office in 1997.

"It is very interesting to study the mindset behind the decision to create a GP-only card and to extend it to 200,000 people. That figure wasn't based on any assessment of needs. It was picked for one reason and one reason only ˆ so that this Government could go into the next General Election claiming it has delivered on its promise to extend the medical card to 200,000 people. This Government loves rhyming off figures. The numbers trip off the Ministers‚ tongues. And the priority here was to reach the magic number and hope the people forget that these are devalued medical cards.

"But the people are not fools and they know that a medical card that does not cover the cost of medicines is debased coinage. The Government is raising the monthly limit beyond which people can claim back for medicines under the Drugs Payment Scheme. So you may get free GP visits but you are going to pay more for your medicine.

"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 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.

"I commend the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin deputies. As our amendment states, these Estimates fail to properly address the persistent inequalities in Irish society brought about directly by the policies of the Government. They fail to address the vital need for a comprehensive system of childcare. They contain totally inadequate provision for local authority housing and for local government funding in general. And they renege on the commitment of the Taoiseach to the Irish people and to the international community to reach the target of 0.7% of GNP for Overseas Development Aid by 2007.

"In conclusion I would like to point people to a very interesting passage in the Minister's speech when he published these Estimates. He stated:

"If it is the case that we believe our relative prosperity can be sustained then the Estimates should reflect our ability to spend money on the less well off, the marginalised, the sick, the young, the elderly. This is an important by product of our economic growth.

"In other words, the poor and those with special needs will always be with us but we can spend a bit of money on them when times are good. I totally refute that. The whole object of government economic management should be to ensure that no-one is marginalized, that no-one is so less well off than their fellow citizens that they are below the poverty line. The object of government policy should be to ensure that the elderly, the young and the disabled are equal citizens and are fully integrated in our society and in our economy. That should not be a by-product of economic growth - it should be the purpose and the measure of economic growth and development.

"The Government hopes with these Estimates, and no doubt, with the forthcoming Budget, to erase the memory of the past seven years of Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats mismanagement. It is not about management of the economy it is about PR management.

"Yesterday the bad news about decentralisation was carefully timed to come out between the Estimates and the Budget ˆ again with the hope of playing a trick on the public memory. But the people are wise to these tricks by now.

"Ministers are deceiving themselves if they think people will so quickly forget that they were promised before the June elections that 10,300 posts would be decentralised to a host of towns around the country. The prospects of relocated jobs were being doled out like jelly babies. But it was all based on the decentralisation fraud that was the centrepiece of Minister McCreevy‚s last Budget. Once again the Government was playing the numbers game. The magic number was over 10,000 civil servants to be relocated. It was based on no research and no evaluation. And now it‚s come unstuck. These Estimates are in the same vein and the Government will be found out again.

"I urge all Deputies to reject the government motion and support the Sinn Féin amendment." ENDS

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