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Care Services: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch] Persons with medical cards are entitled to a full range of services without charge, including general practitioner services, all inpatient public hospital services in public wards including consultant services, all outpatient public hospital services, including dental, ophthalmic and aural services and appliances, and a maternity and infant care service. They are also provided with prescribed drugs and medicines, subject to capped co-payment. Eligibility for medical cards is generally determined by reference to the means of the individual or family and a medical card is awarded where income is below a certain level.

The Government is committed to major reforms of the manner in which health services are delivered. The programme for Government commits to reforming the current public health system by introducing universal health insurance with equal access to care for all. As part of this, the Government is committed to introducing, on a phased basis, GP care without fees within its first term of office. In honouring this commitment, legislation to allow the Minister for Health to make regulations to extend this access to persons with prescribed illnesses is currently being drafted by the Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General and will be published shortly. Implementation dates and application details will be announced in due course.

Carers were identified as a priority theme under the economic and social disadvantage category in the dormant accounts allocation for 2007. The focus of the carers' measure is to provide training to assist carers in undertaking their caring role. The Department of Social Protection has been the lead Department for this measure, as well as carer's payment and the respite grant, and the funding is being channelled through the Department's Vote. Pobal is administering the measure on behalf of the Department and is responsible for the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the programme. Applications were assessed by Pobal and 12 groups were approved for funding in December 2008, totalling €1.48 million. The grants range in size, with more than €500,000 for the Carers Association and almost €250,000 for Caring for Carers, while smaller groups are receiving smaller amounts, such as €38,000 for the Rosses Community Development Project in Donegal and €10,000 for the Ballinrobe Family Resource Centre in Mayo.

I am very conscious of the needs of carers. I also fully understand that a wide range of other groups, such as unemployed people, parents, pensioners and people with disabilities, depend on the welfare budget for vital support. I want to assure the House that the Government, in the context of a very tough budgetary environment, will continue to do its utmost to protect the most vulnerable people in Irish society.

The requirements of the Department of Social Protection highlight how important stable finances are. Over the next five years, the Department of Social Protection will spend over €100 billion. All of this must be raised by taxation or, in the short term, by borrowing. Obviously, any borrowing will have to be repaid by the taxpayer at some time in the future. It is clear that if the Government did not ensure we had a sustainable financial situation, the Department of Social Protection and its clients, as the largest single Vote, would be the first to suffer. The Government will, of course, make sure we provide this money and this support. It is up to other parties to explain how their policies would maintain the same level of commitment to social welfare clients.

Our public finances are performing well. Based on the latest information, including the November tax receipts, the Department of Finance now projects that the general Government deficit for this year will be 8.2%, well inside the required target of 8.6% under the excessive deficit procedure. In addition, the projected deficits for 2013 to 2015 are 7.5%, 5.1% and 2.9%, respectively, all in line with the targets to be achieved.

Stable public finances are an essential prerequisite of long-term economic growth and job creation. We will only be able to successfully access the markets in the long term if the markets believe we have a credible fiscal strategy and that we can repay our debts. Confidence is returning to Ireland. Unemployment fell by 3,600 on an annual basis in quarter 3, the first year-on-year fall recorded since 2005. Solid economic indicators such as the manufacturing purchasing managers' index show that Ireland is the only country in the euro area to record an expansion, the ninth consecutive month of expansion. Retail sales have strengthened over recent months. There are many positive signs, including renewed private sector job creation, sustained and significant foreign investment, strong exports and, as I have indicated, restored access to international funding markets. The journey ahead is difficult but we must travel with a sense of purpose.

For many, particularly as we get older, our first choice is to remain living at home in the communities in which we are rooted and with which we are familiar. Government policy is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Where appropriate, the health service also supports access to high-quality long-term residential care. I understand that people requiring care face particular challenges in their daily lives and that family carers have to make sacrifices in order to look after their loved ones. I have set out in the foregoing the definite steps the Government has taken to make sure these vulnerable groups are protected to the greatest extent possible. The Government is well aware of and values the contribution of the many carers who do an extraordinary job in our community every day.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher With the agreement of the House, I will share my time with Deputy Robert Troy.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. Having contributed to the debate on the Social Welfare Bill, I will be repeating myself to an extent, but what I said is worth repeating.

The Technical Group has put down a comprehensive motion, which is worth reflecting on. It outlines and recognises the contribution carers make to society. It goes on to acknowledge their need for support from the State and calls on the Government to act on that in a meaningful way. State support is required in the form of carer's allowance and benefit, home care packages, special needs assistance and grants to adapt homes for people who are disabled to ensure they can live at home with dignity and independence.

The decision to cut the carer's respite grant was an amazing one. It now appears we are targeting people who have been made vulnerable by an intellectual or physical disability. I do not say this lightly. In the areas of health and social welfare, we have seen home help hours cut, the carer's respite grant has been cut and last September we witnessed the unseemly sight of people campaigning outside Government Buildings to retain special needs assistants. The Department of Health is now proposing to cut home care packages.

The Government, in trying to honour its commitments not to increase taxation or cut basic social welfare payments, is attacking vulnerable groups in a very malicious way. I do not use those words lightly, but this seems to be the case.

The respite care grant is a valuable contribution to people who are caring for someone at home, particularly to many people who do not qualify for the carer's or half carer's payment. It gives them some support and recognition of what they do on behalf of the State by caring for people who have physical or intellectual disabilities or are growing old and want to remain at home for as long as possible.

This cut was mean and nasty.

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