Private Members- 23rd October- Older Citizens Motion

Deputy Joe O’Reilly: Sadly and wrongly, since the budget we have had a sequence involving scaremongering, alarmism and placing unreasonable fears on our older persons. Unfortunately, tonight’s motion and the amendment is another chapter in that sequence. For this reason, I join Deputy Buttimer in welcoming the new communications strategy from the HSE in respect of the allaying of fears. I intend to use my short contribution to put the whole question in context and to bring to the attention of the House what is not at issue. The income threshold for the general practitioner visit card, which is very valuable to people, remains unchanged. That is a fact. The long-term illness card, available to sufferers of diabetes and a range of costly illnesses remains in place. That is a fact too. A total of 35,000 people will be affected, but 93% of over 70s will retain their medical card.
We need to communicate the message properly, but the validation of medical cards is in the public interest, in taxpayers’ interests and in the interests of a better service. It is the right thing to do as well. Anyone who for populist reasons seeks to posit the opposite view to the House is sadly lacking as a public representative.
Let us put in context what has not altered for our older people. The core rate of the State pensions remains in place as does free travel, the fuel allowance, the living alone allowance, the free television licence, the electricity and gas allowance and the over 80 years allowance. The carers rate is preserved and the half-rate carers rate is preserved. The extra payment for caring is in place as well. In 2014 an investment of €25 million will create 12,500 warmer homes under the better energy scheme.
By the way, when I referred to 93% just now I was explaining that 93% of over 70s will retain either a GP visit card or a medical card.
The telephone issue has been raised but the Government is set to examine the senior alert scheme. It is important that this happens and I commend the announcement. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that many of the telephone companies are now vying to get into this market. The reality is that services will be available to many people. For example, Eircom has a vulnerable users scheme. This is all many of them use anyway. Under the scheme the first €8 is allowed for an older person to telephone family members if their telephone bill is less than €17.21 in a month. That will apply in many cases. The senior alert scheme will be addressed. Some €200 million is in place for housing adaptation and dealing with housing grants, a real service. The DIRT tax measures do not affect married couples aged 65 years and over with €36,000 of income or individuals with €18,000 of income. The nursing homes support scheme remains in place, as the Minister noted, and there is an aggressive, active and satisfactory primary care development programme in the country. Happily, several primary care centres were opened in my constituency recently by the Minister. These will allow people access to services nearer to home.
Let us consider this holistically and consider all the facts. We were in a situation involving the troika and a bailout. At the moment €1 billion per month more is being spent than taken in. In this context what we have achieved for our older persons should be lauded by the House. Any objective commentary would hold that we deliberating on a minute telephone allowance which will be addressed as far as possible.

The fact remains that someone over 70 years with up to €500 in income per week will still have a medical card or a couple with €900 in income will still have a medical card, although there are few of these in my constituency. If that is all we are discussing then there is no issue.
Thanks be to God, the Government and the Minister sitting in front of me have every reason to be proud of our extraordinary record for old people. We have got people off the trolleys or the solution is virtually achieved and the emergency ward situation is being addressed. We have achieved for older persons holistically and comprehensively. The motion does not stand up; it is based on a fallacy. The honest and intellectually straight thing to do would be to withdraw it or certainly not put it to a vote.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website