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 Header Item Introduction of New Member (Continued)
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 842 No. 1

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Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I would like to be associated with the Ceann Comhairle's remarks of congratulation to Deputy Ruth Coppinger. I hope she has a long and distinguished career in the House.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin On behalf of my party and on my own behalf, I congratulate Deputy Ruth Coppinger on her success in the by-election and welcome her to the Chamber, which is the key national decision-making chamber in our public life. She has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to public matters and public affairs. Irrespective of our different perspectives on politics, participation in politics is fundamentally the glue that keeps us all together. I welcome the Deputy to the Chamber and look forward to many a spirited and engaging debate as matters ensue.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Ar mo shon féin agus ar son Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Teachta Ruth Coppinger. Le cuidiú Dé, beidh muid ábalta obair le chéile ar son mhuintir an Stáit agus an oileáin seo.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins I am sure the days following on will not be as serene and friendly as this moment, but sufficient for this day is the joy thereof. Ar an gcéad dul síos, céad míle buíochas do mhuintir Bhaile Átha Cliath Thiar. I express the deepest appreciation of the Socialist Party and the Anti-Austerity Alliance to the people of Dublin West for sending the former Councillor Ruth Coppinger to Dáil Éireann to represent them alongside myself. I welcome Ruth's family and supporters to the Visitors Gallery. Her late parents would be delighted to be here as well if things had been different.

The now Deputy Coppinger has been a sterling fighter for the ordinary people of Dublin West for a very long time, leading and assisting the crucial campaigns that were necessary, for example, to defend services at Blanchardstown hospital and resist cuts to special needs assistants, campaigning with those desperately in need of homes, campaigning to resist draconian austerity taxes, campaigning with those affected by pyrite, campaigning with those afflicted by private management fees, and, today, campaigning with the Paris Bakery workers scandalously forced to occupy their premises for the unpaid wages and rights to which they are entitled.

On 23 May, the ordinary people of Ireland did not merely speak - they absolutely thundered against the injustices of the austerity burden placed upon them for six years to salvage a degenerate and socially destructive European financial market system. That burden has been borne by the child who has special needs or is acutely ill or the pensioner whose medical card has been callously removed, by low and middle-income workers and the unemployed now threatened with punitive water taxes, and by the young frog-marched into forced labour schemes or forced out of their country. These policies of austerity have been crushingly rejected. The Government is now suspended in mid-air, with no democratic legitimacy for further austerity. Like a pair of schoolyard bullies against whom the schoolyard has finally revolted, Fine Gael and Labour are left politically pummelled and punch-drunk, one sprawled senseless on the floor, the other staggering around in a daze.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae They are laughing at themselves.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins This was a referendum of the ordinary people of Ireland. The people have decided. Therefore, forthwith, restore the medical cards, abolish the water tax and build the homes that are desperately needed. By the way, what a crushing indictment it is of this Government that, in 1975, 8,794 homes were built by local authorities, whereas last year 293 were built, with 90,000 families waiting.

As the Labour Party has melted into the capitalist establishment, there is a real thirst in our country for a new political movement that is independent of that establishment. It is a genuine mass movement that represents ordinary people. This means organising to fight for real change, whereby the wealth in society is used and developed not to enrich the few, as now, but to transform the lives of our people and end the suffering of so many.

On Friday, people turned in droves from the Government. Hard questions will be asked of all those to whom they turned, including Independents and Sinn Féin, as to whether they are prepared to lead a movement to break with the disaster of capitalist economics, which has resulted in 26 million people being unemployed in Europe, and capitalist politics, or whether they will take a road that mirrors the Labour Party's unfortunate trajectory.

For Ruth Coppinger, as for myself in this assembly, the great socialist James Connolly, whose statue stands behind us, will be a constant inspiration and reminder that we are here not to serve any personal ambition but to struggle for democratic socialist change to achieve the transformation of our society in a way that can meet the needs of all our people and end the barbarities and cruelty inflicted on so many by the present system.

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is fair to say that one of the issues that had caused the greatest offence to the people we met on the doorsteps in recent weeks, irrespective of whether they were affected by it, was the policy position of the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards from very sick people, children with multiple disabilities and people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. To be honest, every Deputy heard shocking stories on doorstep after doorstep that went to the heart of the Administration's insensitivity - for example, of people terminally ill with cancer and brain tumours who had their cards taken from them.

We have been raising these issues with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, for more than two years. I have raised them on Leaders' Questions a number of times. We got denial after denial of a change in policy and a lot of bravado from the Taoiseach. We got a metaphorical smacking down, with claims that we were scaremongering and so on. Lo and behold, a week or two ago the Minister for Finance stated that change was on the way but that, because of the looming elections, he would not tell anyone about it lest he be accused of electioneering and that he would tell us all about it in the elections' aftermath.

This issue has offended people's sense of decency. Many who never held medical cards told us that, whatever we did, we should look after those who were sickest first. Will the Minister confirm that the policy of withdrawing discretionary medical cards will stop and that those that have been withdrawn from sick people will be restored? Will new legislation be published to underpin the granting of medical cards to very sick children, irrespective of age, as well as to people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions?

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I thank Deputy Martin for his question. It is reasonable to accept that people want a system of medical cards that is sensitive to families' needs and can operate on a case-by-case basis. The Government will certainly examine this. Taking medical cards from very sick children is not acceptable. This cannot be changed overnight, but the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and Minister of State, Deputy White, will look at some of the issues that have arisen.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae They have been looking at them for a long time.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Government has made clear its commitment to delivering on the implementation of a GP service for the entire population as part of the move to universal health care.


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