‘Even the dead aren’t safe from this Government’ - Michael McGrath

Fianna Fáil claims 35,000 people will lose medical card after this year’s budget

Michael McGrath: what have you against elderly married people?

Michael McGrath: what have you against elderly married people?

 

MARIE O’HALLORAN and MICHAEL O’REGAN

Former Fine Gael minister of state Lucinda Creighton abstained in a vote on the reduction in private health insurance tax relief.

The Government had a comfortable 98 to 576 votes majority on the measure which restricts tax relief on health insurance premiums to the first €1,000 for each adult and €500 for each child.

Ms Creighton, who resigned her junior ministry in the vote on abortion legislation and lost the whip, but remains a member of the party, said she had great difficulty with the provision. “It is going to disproportionately hit people on the fringes. There are people with families finding it very difficult to pay health insurance.” She knew of numerous people who had been forced to give up health insurance because of the cost.

Ms Creighton also said she would not be voting against the Government on any budget measure.

Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton said the health insurance tax relief restriction would yield €94 million for the exchequer in 2014 and €127 million in a full year, affecting about 577,000 subscribers - about half of those who have health insurance.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher described it as an “absolute assault” and the Government was “pillaging” families who paid health insurance.

He pointed out that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said it would only affect “gold plated” premiums, but Mr Kelleher described this remark as an “affront”. The measure was accepted by 98 to 57 votes.

The Dáil also passed a number of other resolutions including the increases in tax on alcohol and cigarettes. The Opposition challenged the 10 c increase on a pint of beer and cider and the 50 c increase on a bottle of wine, but the Government won the vote comfortably by 103 to 53. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the increases were not an alternative strategy for dealing with alcohol-related problems , which required considerable discussion. Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said at least the Taoiseach did not claim it as a health initiative. It was a “new grab” on the pockets of ordinary people.

Other measures accepted without a vote included a limit on tax reliefs for investments in plant and machinery by high income individuals. Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte described the resolution as an anti-tax avoidance measure which would affect “passive” investors and for which 14 people had claimed tax relief.

The House also passed without a vote an employment and investment incentive which the Minister said would cost €1 million a year.

The Dáil also accepted the abolition of tax relieves for those interested in acquiring partnerships, which would yield €4million to the exchequer.

Commenting on the buget, Fianna Fáil accused the Government of targetting elderly people in the budget. Public expenditure and reform spokesman Sean Fleming said the Minister for Finance is “hitting their medical cards, hitting their free telephone allowance and hitting them everywhere it hurts”.

Older people would be “afraid in their homes tonight. They will be losing their alarm that they need in case of an emergency to ring a family member and 35,000 of them will be losing their medical cards”, because of the cuts in income eligibility for pensioners.

Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the budget targets the elderly, medical card holders and young mothers.

He said “it abandons people who are struggling to keep their homes and, yet again incredibly, the Government has gone out of its way to insulate the better-off from the worst effects of it”.

The Cork South-Central TD described as “disgraceful” the way pensioners were being targeted. “Not only will many of them lose their medical card, they will have higher prescription charges and lose their telephone allowance and bereavement grant, while DIRT is going up.”

And he said: “Even the dead are not safe from the Government.” The Government would not only take property tax from the estates of the deceased but it “is removing the modest grant their loved-ones receive to give them the dignity of a decent burial”.