Pension increase ‘woeful’ and Greens a ‘disgrace’: Ballinasloe reacts to budget

Galway town locals unhappy about welfare payment changes and feel ‘forgotten about’

Sitting in Gullane's Hotel on Main Street in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Phil Lloyd Bruce, a 77-year-old widow, made her feelings known within minutes of hearing budget details.

The €5 increase for the old age pension and an extra €3 for the living alone allowance is “woeful”, she said, adding: “Why did they think only a fiver was enough?

“My age group are always seen as an easy target. They think a measly €5 increase is enough to win our vote next election. In the budget, towns like Ballinasloe are forgotten about,” said Ms Bruce.

“Ever since the motorway bypass was built in 2009, it’s like we’ve been forgotten about completely by Dublin. There is no one to speak for us when it comes to issues like this,” she said.

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Others who gathered for a carvery lunch remarked with dry humour as they saw Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath produce their wares: "A fiver increase? Crack out the Champagne," said one.

“As soon as I see any news of the budget on the TV, I leave the room. I’ve lived through about 60 of these things and I’ve had enough,” one local said, with little interest in being quoted by name.

‘Same old, same old’

Ballinasloe is situated in the Roscommon-Galway constituency, where none of its TDs now represent a Coalition party. Failing to win a seat there in 2020 was a bad blow for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's election hopes.

Deirdre Madden was enjoying Tuesday afternoon tea with friends when news of the budget came through. She immediately wondered when the next election is going to be held.

“Are they worried about an election? Where is this money coming from?” she said, though she conceded the decision to use an extra €200 million to tackle waiting lists “sounds good”.

Kieron Drumm, a visiting consultant from Dublin in for lunch after a morning's work in the local hospital, said the budget was "same old, same old", believing there should be more means testing for welfare payments.

“At the start I liked Leo [Varadkar] because he seemed to be taking the welfare thing seriously – it’s become too bloated. Now he’s the same as everyone else. He’s become too comfortable.”

The increase in carbon taxes has not gone down well in Ballinasloe, supporting the evidence in last week’s Irish Times opinion poll that voters baulk at measures to deal with the State’s carbon emissions, even if they accept the theory.

Ms Madden believes “the extra tenner a week for the pension and fuel allowance is just going straight back”, given the carbon tax increases and the higher costs generally of petrol and diesel.

Kathleen Hough, a local retiree, wanted action on inflation: "Inflation has become a major issue, the price of living has gone up so much over the last few years. I don't think the Government is doing enough to react to that."

Meanwhile, Ms Bruce no longer burns oil or uses an open fire at home since she converted to gas but other neighbours of hers in Ballinasloe – a place where many still favour cutting turf – rely on it to heat their homes, she says.

"I get that Eamon Ryan is just trying to do his job for the environment and all that but he simply does not understand life in rural Ireland. We feel very hard done by here in town about what they've done about turf."

Power cuts

The closure of the nearby Shannonbridge peat-fired power station last December still rankles: "There's talks of power cuts and the local power station has been shut down? What kind of sense does that make?" Ms Hough said.

With harsh words for the Green Party, she branded the party “a disgrace for what they’ve done to rural Ireland”, adding: “They simply do not think about the people out here in this neck of the woods.”

Anne-Marie Kelly was critical of the Greens, too, but she blamed them for the lack of local buses: "For a town like Ballinasloe and surrounding rural communities, that is absolutely crucial."

However, she welcomed the extra 800 gardaí: “There’s been a massive increase in speeding on the rural back roads during the pandemic and no gardaí to stop them, so I’d regard more gardaí as a good thing.”