Five years a short time in politics for grey army

Taoiseach’s long convoluted responses a far cry from his platform performance in 2008

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams: railed against the “awful, spiteful, shameful, sleekit” measures

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams: railed against the “awful, spiteful, shameful, sleekit” measures


Five years ago to the very day.

Same plot. Same players. Different script.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore couldn’t wait to butter up the pensioners back in 2008. They charged out from Leinster House, all business, and told the protesters what they wanted to hear.

The message was simple: put us in government and your medical cards won’t be touched. So they did.

The then leader of the opposition had some fine fighting talk for the pensioners. Enda Kenny bellowed: “To take away your rights to have a medical card beyond the age of 70 years – I reject it! The cheek of them. Shame on them. Shame. On. Them!”

As the thousands of pensioners cheered him on you would have sworn he meant it.

The then leader of the Labour Party also milked the moment. How dare the Fianna Fáil government disrespect our elderly, roared Eamon Gilmore, these people “who worked hard all their lives, often paid high taxes and only want the peace of mind of having the medical card if feeling unwell”.

You would have sworn he meant it too.

Leaders’ Questions
Needless to say, wild horses couldn’t have dragged the pair of them out on to Kildare Street yesterday. Anyway, what could the Taoiseach have said to them this time? Certainly not what he told the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.

“The challenges facing the health area are challenging.

“We are reducing the costs of the services, but protecting the services.”

He wouldn’t have made it down from the platform in one piece. Mind you, Fianna Fáil politicians had the good sense to stay away from yesterday’s protest too.

Five years ago, opposition deputies were all over the pensioners as they protested against proposed medical card cuts. The current Opposition knew better than to pull that stunt. They were just as unpopular as their Government counterparts.

Back then, they blamed the unprecedented backlash on poor communications. The measures they wanted to implement would only impact on pensioners on high incomes.

The new intake hasn’t learned much in the interim. It’s a communications problem again, apparently. Except now, the removal of medical cards from people trying to cope in extremely difficult medical circumstances stems from their inability to comply with the HSE’s form-filling requirements. That’s all. Enda insists it’ll all be sorted.

“You must be the only person in the country who doesn’t believe there is a policy to withdraw people’s discretionary medical cards,” said Micheál Martin.

Gerry Adams railed against the “awful, spiteful, shameful, sleekit” measures. “Sleekit” is Ulster Scots for sneaky.

The Taoiseach’s long, convoluted responses were a far cry from his platform performance in 2008.
He smothered the Dáil chamber in a HSE blanket
of officialese.

Enda hit back, saying the Sinn Féin leader had such faith in the health system here that he went to Manhattan to have a medical procedure done.

Clare Daly of the Technical Group was bamboozled. She wondered if he was trying “to put us in some sort of hypnotic trance, where you just mumble back the same nonsense that we’ve been hearing here for weeks”.

The Taoiseach’s refrain that his Government has had to deal with the “unmitigated disaster” left behind in the Department of Health by the previous government wouldn’t have cut any ice with the protesting grey army.

Politics here moves at such a fast pace – one burning controversy quickly replaced by another – that many observers at yesterday’s protest had forgotten the parts played by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore at that first rally. But the pensioners hadn’t. They remembered it well and jogged our memories for us.

Many little cuts
The Taoiseach said the Government would not be rolling back on the plan to remove cards from those pensioners in the high income bracket. But it wasn’t just the medical cards that had the elderly on the streets. They said it was the many little cuts that made them angry.

And it made the Government backbenchers jittery. Pensioners are unlikely but effective protesters. Even the gardaí bowed and dispensed with their usual ring of steel. Maybe 8,000 people turned up to make their point. They mustered on time and had a sing-song to keep their spirits up before the speeches.

Jack and Clodagh Kirwan from Trim brought a homemade, very realistic-looking grey tombstone. “You have one hand in our pocket and one foot in our grave” read the epitaph.

“I wanted to make it from real stone but she wouldn’t carry it” said Jack. They said they were incensed by the increase in prescription charges: “Clodagh is on a large amount of regular medication.”

Maria Bradley from Dunshaughlin made a cross with “OAPs nailed to the cross” written on it.

Sean Belton of the Tara Mines pensioners group had a small loudhailer resting on his walking aid. He hoped he might be able to say a few words. And if he couldn’t? Sean pressed a button on the loudhailer and it wailed like an American police siren.

Independent TD Shane Ross ventured out and got the head eaten off him by a very irate pensioner.

Gerry Adams stood for a while listening with a little smile on his face as the crowd loudly booed the Labour Party.

“We came in the last time and we’ll be here again if necessary” said Bridget McCracken (74) from Santry. “They’ve barely left us with our pensions.”

June Murray and Marie O’Gorman from Walkinstown agreed. “All they want to do is shoot us.”

They said they’d be checking the internet in the morning to read about the march.

Where they’ll also find Enda and Eamon’s words from 2008.

They must be mortified.