Smoking ban saves 4,000 lives since 2004, says Martin
Fianna Fáil leader critical of Government’s ‘two-tiered recovery’
Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin at the party’s ardfheis in Killarney at the weekend. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Almost 4,000 lives have been saved because of the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs 10 years ago, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the party faithful in Killarney at the party’s 75th ardfheis.
As Ireland this week marks the anniversary of becoming the first country in the world to implement “this huge step forward for public health”, Mr Martin received sustained applause for his most significant achievement as then minister for health when he introduced the ban in March 2004.
He told delegates the “latest independent report shows that almost 4,000 people are alive today because of this policy. That’s something everyone in this country has a right to be proud of.”
He predicted similar campaigns for other radical public health measures when he said “alcohol abuse and childhood obesity are issues of the same magnitude and scale”.
He continued: “They have a huge social and economic impact throughout our society and they need to be tackled with the same focus, priority and ambition.”
In his televised speech to some 2,500 delegates he hit out at the Government’s “two-tiered recovery” and said that through its policies “some are moving ahead but many are being left behind”.
These were deliberate choices such as taxes which he said took no account of “ability to pay; cuts targeted directly at the elderly and children with special needs; and a refusal to tackle mounting social and economic problems”.
A secure economy “can’t be achieved with public relations or hoping that a few rising boats will lift everyone”, he said.
Focusing on elderly voters, he said “there is no greater responsibility than supporting the elderly to live as full a life as they can”. The “ongoing attacks on support schemes for the elderly have to end”.
Their core incomes had been attacked, phone allowance abolished and fuel allowances and vital care services, had been cut severely, while the €25 a month prescription charge fell directly on those most in need.
He said “a decent society should stop the current attack on the pension entitlements of many women” and give a guarantee of basic services and supports to its older citizens.
Water and property charges
He also sharply criticised implementation of the water and property charges. “No matter what your income is, what pressures you are dealing with, you get the same bill. This year the property tax has been doubled. And it can’t be right that next year it will go up again in line with the property market which has absolutely no connection to people’s ability to pay.”
He described as “another cynical political ploy” the introduction next January of water charges because the exact amount people would pay would not be known until after the local elections and the public would have to pay for the €180 million already spent by Irish Water.
Families, he said, were “simply waiting too long and struggling too hard to access essential therapies which their children need”. He stressed Fianna Fáil’s belief “above all” in a “public health system and we will oppose the plan to privatise it”.
More than 200 lives a year were saved on the roads since the introduction of Road Safety Authority and the same could be done for mental health, he said. “That’s why we are proposing the establishment of a National Mental Health Authority. ”
Mr Martin also renewed his criticism of the “detachment” of the Government and Britain from issues to do with Northern Ireland and said this was doing “real damage”.