Kenny denies ‘witch-hunt’ of medical card holders
Fianna Fáil leader accuses Government of targetting older people
Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the budget 2014 provisions amid heated Dáil exchanges.
“The budget of 2014 is the first and critical step that will allow the country to get out of the bailout programme to which we were led by Fianna Fáil, ” he added.
“Secondly, it is designed to get this country back to work, which is the central mandate given to this Government.’’
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of engaging in a savage targeting of old people, from the abolition of the telephone allowance, the withdrawal of 35,000 medical cards from those over 70 years and the “wider witch-hunt” of another 100,000 medical cards taken from people.
He added that the five-fold increase in prescription charges over the past two years, as well as the doubling of property tax and the reduction of tax relief on health insurance and the abolition of the bereavement grants.
Mr Martin asked why the Government had singled out older people.
Mr Kenny said the budget had protected and supported the elderly in a great number of ways. For example, he said, the State pension, the carers’ schemes, free travel and television licence had not been touched.
The fuel allowance had not been changed. “There is no change in the net income for pensioners in this budget,’’ Mr Kenny added.
Sinn Féin finance spokeswoman Mary Lou McDonald said the Government the young and mostly educated were emigrating because they had no jobs in Ireland. Their relatives had hoped something would be provided for them in the budget, but, instead, the Government had introduced brutal measures aimed at the young.
Mr Kenny said he regarded the young people as the State’s future, but Ms McDonald seemed to want to confine them to the dole queues rather than find them training and a job.
Independent Stephen Donnelly accused the Government of discrimination on age grounds in cutting the social welfare entitlements of those under 26.
Describing the cut as a question of human rights Mr Donnelly said the Taoiseach would not come into the Dáil and say “we are cutting basic social protections to non-whites, to women, to Muslims. But that’s exactly what you’ve done. You’ve targeted a group of people based on age.”
Mr Kenny said however that he regarded the issue of human rights as the right to work and a right to have the opportunity to work.
He pointed out that different ranges of people were treated differently by the Department of Social Protection from young people through to the different categories that apply in society right up to senior citizens.
Mr Donnelly said the logic being used was that “you need to cut their social protection to get them to work”, when job activation measures were already in place for those who did not want to work.
Mr Donnellan said the Minister then announced a reduction in basic social welfare rates of people under 26. “Are people under 26 not of working age?” Mr Donnellan asked.
He then accused Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore of “doublespeak worthy of George Orwell” that the change was not a cut. He quoted Mr Gilmore speaking on radio that the Government “was simply extending lower rates to these people”.
But Mr Kenny said that because of the changes the Government had brought about including labour activation, unemployment rates were expected to go under 400,000 before the end of the year when it was 500,000.
He said the changes being made were “really in the interests of young people finding a whole new opportunity, a whole new advantage”.