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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 15, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

    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

    • Robespierre says:

      Good column – poor old Ernie gets a rough deal but if you consult articles for foreign affairs (predominantly by Eoin McNeill) it points out just how hard raising finances for the nascent state was.

      Like Lenihan now, Blythe took the flak but it was a collective decision. Some of the people that might have broken rank under Bertie like McGuinness, O’Flynn and O’Keeffe may not do so under Biffo.

      Apart from former junior ministers in Donegal and Galway I don’t see the massed disgruntled masses hurrying forth to protest.

      At some point in time Zanu-FF will simply lose touch because they have been in power for too long – this may just be the start of it.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I think we have to question the potential savings being estimated given that the very same people in the Department of Finance (not Brian Lenihan himself) costed the provision of these cards at €20 million or so and it ended up costing 5/6 times that amount.

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