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Confidence in the Government: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin] 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 this is as true today as it was on 7 July 2010, yet the Minister has increased the charge from 50 cent per item to €1.50 and has increased the monthly maximum to €19.50, in addition to increasing the drugs payment scheme limit to €144. A Government that repeatedly trumpets its belief in the crucial role of primary care in our health system has undermined primary care with this rise in drugs charges for patients.

  Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, claimed in a radio interview that the Labour Party did not commit to the reversal of the prescription charges. That is 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.

This was less than two years ago. Last Wednesday, Labour's commitment was blatantly broken. The words of Labour Party health spokesperson Deputy Jan O'Sullivan in the debate on prescription charges in the Dáil on 7 July 2010 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 the charge was one of only 50 cent per item and a maximum of €10 per month. I said that was pure deception because the Bill in question empowered the Minister at any time in the future to make regulations to vary the charges. I said we knew that that Minister and future Ministers would increase the prescription charges for medical card holders and I predicted that would happen if the Bill were passed. Deputy Reilly, who is now the Minister, agreed with me on the floor of this House, pledging to reverse the charge. Of course, the then Minister, Ms Mary Harney, gave no such undertaking. I little thought that, within such a short time, I would be standing here protesting over the trebling of this very charge on prescriptions by the Fine Gael-Labour Government. In opposition, the parties promised to abolish it.

  I have gone into detail on this one aspect of the budget because it illustrates clearly that the Government is not only grossly unfair but also grossly dishonest. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, confirmed this by letting the mask slip on "The Week in Politics" last Sunday when asked if he had not violated Labour's election commitment that, by voting for the party, it would protect child benefit. He replied: "Isn't that what you tend to do during an election." Shame on all in government. The Government should go, and go now.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe At the last general election, the people overwhelmingly rejected the policies of the Government of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats.

Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan And the Deputy's plans.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe My plans were not rejected at all; I actually got elected. Irrespective of that, there is a consensus among the electorate and political commentators that the last Government stayed too long in power, lost touch with people, ignored the escalating financial crisis and, believing its own propaganda, assumed was good for at least another term in office. People voted for a fairer and better way, a change and an alternative. Unfortunately, they have not seen that change or alternative. The Government got elected on the back of promises it made to an electorate that expected and demanded a new approach.

During the general election campaign, in 2011, the current Government parties promised to protect working families and vulnerable citizens from unfair policies and measures that would drastically affect their living standard. However, the ink was hardly dry on the programme for Government when the current Government began its assault on working families and those on low and middle incomes. The Government promised to oppose any attempt to introduce cuts to child benefit, yet, in the next couple of days, it proposes to cut child benefit and penalise families who are hanging on the edge of a financial cliff. We heard the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources say at the weekend that one tends to do this during an election campaign. When the governing parties entered office, they parked their election promises and somehow buried the legitimate aspirations of the electorate.

Cuts to child benefit, no matter how they are wrapped up and presented, are plainly and simply wrong. The cuts are anti-child and anti-woman and penalise large families. They will push even more families, including children, into poverty.

I find it repugnant and difficult to listen to well-meaning Government Members who defend in this Chamber policies that they were elected to overturn and reject. They are actually implementing the policies of the preceding Government. At the weekend, a Minister seemed to have no problem with all these social welfare cuts. He stated: "When the facts change, I change my mind." I question what that means.

The reason circumstances have not changed is that the Government has failed to negotiate a deal to remove the burden of private banking debt from the shoulders of taxpayers. During the election campaign, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, now Tánaiste, proclaimed voters had a choice between Labour's way and Frankfurt's way. Is this budget Labour's way? That is the question people are asking. Where is Labour's stamp on the budget? In government, it has refused to impose losses on unsecured, unguaranteed senior bondholders at Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society. The State will pay €3.1 billion to Anglo Irish Bank on 31 March 2013 and €4 billion to Bank of Ireland in May 2013. The Government cut child benefit, introduced a family home tax and reduced respite grants to carers while giving the unsecured bondholders a free pass to as much of the Irish people's money as they wanted. This is the crazy point and what is annoying the people. The Government parties said one thing and did the opposite. That is what is killing people who are suffering in their homes.

One has only to walk outside Leinster House to see the change that has happened under the current Government. One can see in the doorways the number of people sleeping rough on the streets. The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will note the increasing number. This is the responsibility of the people in this House. We have failed the homeless. Christmas is approaching and they have no roof over their heads.

The cruellest cut of all is the cut to the respite care benefit. It represents the difference between sanity and insanity for some families, as we all know. We all rightly praise the carers but ultimately the Government is cutting the respite care benefit.

I described the position of students during the week. We are starving them out of education through the budgetary cuts and the delays associated with the SUSI programme. We need to reconsider the budget as there is no fair provision. The Government says it is a fairer budget but there is nothing fair about it. The Government needs to think again about it.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy The spring of 2011 was a time of political excitement. After 14 years of mis-government, which left a legacy of political corruption, service malfunction and financial destruction, there was a chance of a new start.

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