Budget evokes shadow of Ernest Blythe
Deaglán de Bréadún
Ernest Blythe was a minister after the foundation of the Irish Free State in early 1920s who incurred undying criticism when he cut the old age pension from ten shillings (50 pence/$0.68) down to nine shillings (45 pence/$0.61)) per week. He was a bitter opponent of the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War and their political descendants in Fianna Fáil. As such, and although he had many sides to his personality, he is not someone with whose name the main party in the current government would wish to be associated.
That’s why Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan might be well advised to back away from or at least water down very significantly the proposal in his Budget to introduce restrictions on the current system whereby persons over 70 years are automatically entitled to a medical card.
A cash grant of €400 ($547) a year is to be available to those who don’t qualify for the medical card and are below a certain income limit, but as a woman who phoned the Pat Kenny Show on RTE Radio One this morning said, “What use is €400?” Not a lot in the light of today’s medical costs. This woman’s husband has a chronic ailment and needs a good deal of medical attention.
The woman was clearly angry and even distraught and no doubt many senior citizens feel the same way after the Budget speech. They feel that, having worked all their lives and contributed to the State in their own way, they are now being subjected to a cruel blow at a time in their lives when they should be given special consideration as elders in the community.
Times are hard and the measure is expected to save €100 ($137) million. But many of these people would be Fianna Fáil voters and indeed the party seems to have gone out of its way to court the “grey vote”.
Brian Lenihan is a kindly and considerate man on a personal level and would not have taken this step lightly. But it certainly seems a bridge too far both on humane grounds and in terms of hard-headed political realities. If the Opposition are worth anything at all they will make hay with this.
Deaglán de Bréadún