Ministers defend budget cut to annual respite care grant
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the decisions taken in the Budget were in the long-term interests of Ireland.
Mr Kenny said “hard-pressed, middle-income earners” will never be able to get out of their difficulties unless opportunities are provided. “When we get over these current difficulties, there is higher ground and better days ahead.”
Mr Kenny and other Ministers have ruled out any row-back on the budget in the light of growing unease among backbench TDs in both Government parties about some of its harsher measures, including cuts in the respite care grant.
The new property tax, the €5 a week increase in PRSI and particularly the cuts in child benefit were also being viewed as potentially difficult issues.
Mr Kenny, while accepting that many of the budget changes made to achieve a €3.5 billion adjustment were “unpalatable”, nevertheless insisted yesterday that all of measures would be implemented.
After meeting US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Government Buildings, Mr Kenny said: “The budget yesterday was and will be the toughest of this administration’s lifetime. None of the choices were easy; all of them were unpalatable.”
Asked if he would reverse any of the harsher measures, including the cuts to respite care, he responded: “The budget’s gone through yesterday. It is the intention of the Government to carry through the budget as put through the Dáil yesterday.”
Mr Gilmore also set himself against any U-turn. Asked about criticisms that the cut in respite grants was unfair, he said: “I think all of the cuts are very difficult.”
A small number of Labour Party TDs, including party chairman Colm Keaveney, have indicated their support may be conditional on changes in the Social Welfare Bill, which will come before the Dáil next week, to give effect to welfare cuts.
Clare TD Michael McNamara has also expressed misgivings. Two Dublin Labour TDs, Michael Conaghan and Eamon Maloney, attended meetings with senior officials of the Department of Social Protection yesterday to outline their concerns about cuts in child benefit and they will hold further meetings today.
Respite care was described by a number of TDs from both Government parties as having the potential to have the same impact as the cuts for disadvantaged schools and small schools in last year’s budget.
The Disability Federation of Ireland said the Budget had hit disabled people and their families particularly hard.
Chief executive John Dolan said the respite care grant cut, along with a tripling in prescription charges for medical card holders and reductions in the household benefit package, left them more vulnerable.
“People with disabilities expect to be able to pursue ordinary lives like everyone else, but the cumulative cutbacks on income and service supports over the last five years have instead severely curtailed their lives,” Mr Dolan said.
Additional reporting: PA