Greens criticise way medical card issue was handled


GREENS:THE GREEN Party has criticised the way the Government, of which it is a party, had handled the medical card controversy but said it was working with its coalition partners to find a way of ensuring that the vast majority of people over 70 retained their cards.

"The party is critical of the way in which changes to the over-70s medical card system were planned and communicated," Green Party spokeswoman on health Deirdre de Búrca said after a meeting of the parliamentary party yesterday.

"This has caused unnecessary distress and confusion amongst our older people and their families. We are working hard to bring about a rapid and satisfactory conclusion to this unfortunate situation.

"The Green Party wants to ensure that the vast majority of people over 70 retain their medical cards. We are working with our coalition partners to arrive at a Government decision that will facilitate this outcome," she added. Ms de Búrca said the party was investigating possibilities for allowing existing older medical card holders to maintain full coverage.

"In addition, we believe that the income limits for eligibility for the over-70s medical card need to be set much higher, as even people with a small private pension are fearful that they would be required to choose between the medical card or the pension."

Earlier, speaking in Britain, Green Party Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Éamon Ryan pledged to listen to the views expressed by party councillors who meet tomorrow to discuss the issue, but he insisted the Government had to make hard decisions. He said the Government had to listen but had also to look at the wider budgetary picture and manage finances in a way that restored confidence.

"It is balancing act, but it is not one where the Government just blocks its ears and doesn't listen to what people are saying. I think you have to listen to what your colleagues are saying but also make hard decisions."

However, his Dáil colleague Paul Gogarty has called on the Government to scrap the medical card proposal altogether and has written to the Minister for Finance and Minister for Health.

"While the vast majority of over-70s are not affected by the revised medical card scheme, the news has caused our elderly much pain and distress. At this stage it would be far better to abolish the proposal than to try and explain the intricacies and subject them to means testing," he said.

Fine Gael Transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd was scathing about the concerns expressed by all of the Green representatives and said they should first look at their own party when suggesting ways to fund the medical card scheme for over-70s.

"Environment Minister John Gormley's team of special advisers and staff are paid more than half-a-million euro, but at the same time, the Government, of which the Green Party is a coalition partner, is suggesting cutbacks to a scheme which helps some of the most vulnerable in society.

"According to documents before the Oireachtas, a former general secretary of the Green Party, Donal Geoghegan, is paid €173,217 per annum, while two former Green Party county councillors get €84,066 a year each. This amounts to €341,349," he said.

""Other staff, a personal assistant earning €45,522 and two job-sharers with a total of €48,059 between them, amount to €97,747."

Mr O'Dowd said that Fine Gael was forcing a Dáil vote on the over-70s medical card measure this week, by bringing forward a private members' motion calling for a reversal of a policy which has left pensioners worried and confused.

"Paul Gogarty should ask his party leader, Environment Minister John Gormley and Energy Minister Éamon Ryan to cut back on the huge sum they pay advisers at a time when every man, woman and child in this country is bearing the brunt of Brian Cowen's recession," he said.