Govt wins crucial budget vote
Govt wins crucial budget vote

A vote in the Dublin parliament on proposed cutbacks was carried by the coalition government with a reduced majority of seven votes tonight.

An opposition motion demanding a reversal of planned cuts to pensioners’ medical care was defeated despite the defection to the Opposition of Joe Behan, who resigned from Fianna Fail last week, and Independent TD, Finian McGrath, who had supported the coalition since the last election.

A government amendment to the motion was carried by 81 votes to 74.

During the debate a succession of Fianna Fail and Green Party speakers apologised for the “hurt” caused to the elderly by last week’s budget decision on medical cards.

Earlier, tens of thousands of senior citizens and students protested in Dublin at separate demonstrations.

Despite a significant watering down of the proposed medical card cuts by the government this week, up to 15,000 senior citizens rallied outside the Leinster House parliament against the cuts. Later, thousands of students took to the streets to protest against increases in college registration charges and the potential reintroduction of third level fees.

In extraordinary scenes, pensioners shouted down Minister for Older People Maire Hoctor and Green Party TD Ciaran Cuffe at the first rally.

People shouted “out, out” and “lies” as minister Hoctor spoke and people were heard to shout “on your bike” as deputy Cuffe addressed the crowd.

Speaking at the rally, Sinn Féin Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain commended those involved for “rocking the political system and for forcing a climb-down by the Government”.

“People power has worked,” he said. “Now let’s keep it going.”

Earlier Minister for Social and Family affairs Mary Hanafin sought to justify the cutbacks by telling Irish radio that “unfortunately” people are “living longer”.

Mr O Caolain blasted the comment. “Unfortunately for whom, Minister? For this Government we presume,” he said.

“What the Government have done on the medical card for over-70s does not go far enough but they would have done nothing if older people had not risen up, made their case in the clearest and strongest terms and demonstrated their anger on the airwaves and on the streets.

“We demand the full restoration of universal entitlement for the over 70s. How many people realise that in its own Programme for Government, the Fianna Fail/Green/PD Coalition is actually committed to extending the medical card, not cutting it back?”

Mr O Caolain recalled the comments of Finance Minister Lenihan, who introduced his new taxes and cutbacks last week as a ‘call to patriotic action’.

“The Minister and the Taoiseach should recall the patriotism of our senior citizens who worked all their lives, who paid taxes at much higher rates than people paid during the Celtic Tiger years, who made sacrifices so that their children and their grandchildren could enjoy a better Ireland.

“And if he wants to talk about patriotism let him recall the words of the Democratic Programme of the First Dail Eireann, the 90th anniversary of which we will mark next January. It said:

‘The Nation’s aged and infirm shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation’s gratitude and consideration’.”

Gardai estimated that a further 15,000 participated in the second demonstration, where the focus was on the 67 per cent increase to the student registration charge announced in last week’s budget.

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