Year of the Grey Rebellion
Deaglán de Bréadún
The words of The Who’s My Generation, “Hope I die before I get old”, come to mind when considering the fiasco over medical cards for the over-70s. Quite a few who are now edging towards that age-group would have thoughtlessly rocked and bopped to Pete Townshend’s stark lyrics back in the mid-1960s (he’s still alive at a sprightly 63).
A comment in response to my Ernest Blythe blog yesterday referred to “Zanu-FF”, as distinct from Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. There are of course major differences and Brian Cowen is definitely no Mugabe, thank goodness, but the medical cards episode does raise questions about the mindset of people who have been in power for so long — 11 years now, without interruption.
It also raises questions about the mindset of people who receive enormous salaries – even after a voluntary ten per cent deduction – and who are driven around in top-of-the-range cars with a staff to attend to their every need.
It’s a long way from the reality facing elderly folk in Recession Ireland. The €400 which the Government is offering those whose income is too high for a medical card is pretty inadequate when you consider the level of medical costs today.
Of course what happened was that FF promised the medical cards to this age-group prior to the 2002 election, then proceeded to negotiate with the doctors — who had them over a barrel. A substantial fee was negotiated which was about three times higher than the ordinary rate that GPs are paid for attending to medical card holders.
Result: a massive cost to the Exchequer. Finance no doubt had a minor heart attack when they saw the expense piling up. Meanwhile, the recipients had gotten used to the “perk”. Now that the Government is trying to extricate itself, there is massive anger.
The issue was badly-handled in the Budget. A committee should have been set up to examine ways around it, with a mandate to report in a short time-frame. Instead we have rage, confusion, hurt and dismay swirling about the body politic. A big meeting is planned – flagged today on Morning Ireland - and we can expect many angry speeches with strong and bitter denunciations of the Government from an age-group which has, in the main, been very loyal to Fianna Fáil.
It is the mark of a civilised society that it treats its elders well. This age-group is largely composed of people who worked all their lives and paid taxes to the State. They are now facing all the trials and tribulations of old age and failing health with the likelihood of incurring very substantial medical bills along the way.
The Greens are keeping a low profile on this but they must be feeling the heat. Unless there is a rapid climbdown, this one could run and run. By the way, if we were living under British rule we would all have free GP visits, wouldn’t we? To quote a line that may well be used at the forthcoming public meeting: is this what the leaders of 1916 died for?
Deaglán de Bréadún