Mask slips on a Government wounded in battle over disability cuts
Other senior Coalition figures criticised the lack of progress so far in pushing through a new deal with the pharmaceutical companies and expressed disgust at the spectacle of hospital consultants being “handheld” through negotiations, “who – we’re being told for the first time – are covered under the Croke Park agreement . . . That matters because we all know the money has to come from somewhere but if these big-ticket issues were dealt with, you wouldn’t be seeing these threats to personal assistant and home carer hours.”
While commentators mused on the political implications of a rift between the Coalition partners, for the disability protesters that sense of incoherence and uncertainty at the highest Government levels were the drivers of real fear and insecurity.
How did they get it so wrong? “I suppose it shows the extent to which people are in a bubble, not clued in . . .” said a senior Coalition figure. Campaigners say it was ignorance, mostly.
“The Department of Health is paying for services for people about whom they know very little,” said one. “For example, a lot of politicians didn’t know what a PA [personal assistant] was. They kept referring to them as ‘carers’. They didn’t know that a home help can’t leave your home to take you somewhere; a PA can. The Irish nation knows nothing about us except in terms of the Paralymics and being ‘heroes’ and ‘superhuman’. And then there’s the charity model – very soon, you’ll have charitable organisations rattling buckets on the basis of what the public has seen in the last few days.”
What it means for other Government hurdles is another matter. “These are only the preliminary skirmishes in the budgetary process and already Labour are looking for an election,” said the senior Fine Gaeler.
“Will side-issues dominate the children’s referendum,” asked the FG backbencher. “Will the debate be all about respite care and the cut in hours? A referendum that isn’t about the economy gives people a chance to send a message on other matters . . . I’d certainly worry about that. I’d worry about what’s happened to the election promises about reform and that people would be thinking now that we’re as bad as Fianna Fáil – that the ‘mask has slipped’. I certainly think we’ve been damaged. By how much is hard to tell . . .”