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1 Debates: Cuts and austerity in disability and other services

Cuts in health and social services were raised by deputies and senators as soon as the Dail and Seanad returned in September.  On the order of business in the Seanad, Darragh O’Brien (FF, labour) questioned cuts in services in St Michael’s House and in respite care for older people (Seanad Eireann, 18th September 2013, 3 et seq).  David Cullinane (SF, labour) accused the government of driving people into poverty.  If the Taoiseach genuinely felt the pain of the people, he would not be about to impose a further austerity budget on the people.  On the following day, Darragh O’Brien spoke of €1m cuts to St Michael’s House and that it was not taking on any new clients (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 19th September 2013, 75).  Later, in the Dail, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, told Billy Timmins (ind, Wicklow) that St Michael’s House received €70m in 2012 and was obliged to work within the resources available (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th September 2013, 543-4; 547).  The Haddington Road agreement required a pay bill reduction of €150m in the HSE service plan for 2013, which provided opportunities for St Michael’s House to reduce costs.   These would present significant challenges and a process was under way with St Michael’s House to identify the impact of budget reductions to ensure that services were impacted on only in last resort.  Later, in an adjournment debate (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th September 2013, 868-871) Tommy Broughan (ind, Dublin NE) spoke of how he had been contacted by families in a state of distress at proposed funding cuts.  They were terrified.  On 9th August, St Michael’s House had been informed of a €1m cut on top of cuts so far.  People are begging the government to end austerity and get out of the horrendous rut of cutting which was damaging our economy, he said.  Responding for the government, Ciaran Cannon, Minister of State at the Department of Education & Skills, told him that agencies such as St Michael’s House had been asked to submit plans to the HSE as to how it would achieve cost reductions under the Haddington road agreement without altering frontline services. No one wanted to arrive at that point.  St Michael’s House and the HSE had now met several times.


During the second week in the Seanad, Marc MacSharry (FF, industrial & commercial) drew attention to the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards for people with disabilities, which he said had fallen from 81,000 in 2010 to 59,000 presently (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 24th September 2013, 139).  A man had come to his clinic in tears the previous day and many people were now in a terrible situation.  In the Dail, the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (FF, Cork SC) spoke of how 24,000 medical cards had been withdrawn (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th September 2013, 221-8), which he called a ‘nasty, sneaky and underhand attack’ on those who could least afford it.  Replying, the Taoiseach assured him that there had not been a change of policy: 40.7% of people had medical cards, the highest proportion ever.  All applicants must be assessed and there had never been an automatic entitlement to a medical card because of a particular illness.  Procedures were in place for issuing an emergency six-month medical card for people with a serious illness, but it must be based on medical evidence.  


Following this, Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) spoke of how austerity policies were hitting people on low incomes very hard.  Fuel poverty was having a devastating effect and he cited the increase in fuel costs coupled with government cuts in fuel and electricity allowances.  The Society of St Vincent de Paul was spending €6m a year to keep people warm and their lights on, while Age Action Ireland stated that older people had to choose between food or fuel, were going to  shopping centres to stay warm or to bed at 7pm in the evening.  We had more deaths in winter than colder countries in Scandinavia.  The Taoiseach told him that the government was not immune to the difficulties faced by people.  A great deal of assistance was available and community effort to help people in difficulty had never been at a higher level.  The situation was not of their making, but the country had drifted and that had to be corrected.


During a debate on disability services (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 25th September 2013, 265 – 286), Darragh O’Brien spoke of ‘six incredibly tough budgets’ where the government had no regard for disability services.  There was an 80% cut in respite services for children in the north east, medical cards withdrawn, a €1m cut in a service for 1,500 people and services stopped between particular hours.


Cuts in funding for youth services were raised in the Dail by Maureen O’Sullivan (ind, Dublin central) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th September 2013, 93-5; 123-4).  She especially drew attention to cuts in inner city services, where there was an unemployment rate of 40%.  The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, drew attention to the €53.5m funding provided in 2013, whilst accepting that there had been a reduction of €7.5m over two budgets.  The minister said she had to agree that the cuts had made some impact, but they were trying to protect the front line and she would continue to do so and she would be happy to discuss the idea of a small grants fund.  

> See also related references:

> Medical cards for people with disabilities: Seanad Eireann, Debates, 18th September 2013, 68-70.

> St Michael’s House: Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th September 2013, 878, 893, 909; 26th September 2013, 880-1; 920

> Cuts in education: Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th September 2013, 286- 311; 25th September, 687-718.

> Cuts in youth services: Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th September 2013, 535-6. 

> Levels of poverty and household benefits package: Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th September 2013, 960-1.