Time to protect the old, the poor and the young

It’s typical of the media in this country - we pick an issue, focus on it, give it endless column inches and time on the airwaves, while other equally damning issues get swept under the carpet.

Obviously I’m referring to the budget cuts which were announced last week and specifically referring to the abolition of the automatic entitlement to a medical card for the over 70s. But the equally controversial cuts which almost passed unnoticed were the cuts in education spending.

The Government have made a complete hash of the whole medical card debacle. If you sit back and look at the whole mess objectively, the idea, in theory, of introducing a threshold entitlement for the receipt of a medical card makes perfect sense. I mean someone who is taking home two pensions amounting to well above the average industrial wage can well afford to pay for their own medical expenses and probably have private health insurance cover anyway.

But to first of all announce that the automatic entitlement was being eradicated without giving any indication of the income thresholds which were being introduced caused widespread panic, fear and confusion among the older generation in this country.

And how in this day of highly educated bureaucrats it could have taken a week for the Government to finally reach a more acceptable income limit of €700 per single person and €1,400 per married couple is laughable.

But with that mess more or less sorted, notwithstanding the devastating destruction it has done to the Fianna Fáil party, who are facing into local and European election campaigns where TDs and outgoing councillors who had no hand, act or part to play in reaching these thresholds will have questions to answer, another crisis is emerging.

After promising reductions in class sizes, the Government have had the audacity to turn around and say classroom sizes at primary level will be increased by one pupil from 27 to 28, thus taking an estimated 1,000 teachers out of the system and creating the largest class sizes in Europe.

While the lack of effort by Brian Lenihan to tackle a bulging and inefficient public service has come in for much criticism, it’s not front-line civil servants like teachers and nurses who should suffer.

Another education cut-back arising from the budget is a limit of two language-support teachers per school.

Sick leave replacement is also being wiped out, meaning that if a teacher is out sick there will be no substitute brought in, leading to pupils being sent home or class sizes doubling as other teachers have to carry the can.

Students from non-English-speaking countries who have set up home here with their families will also be severely affected by the education cut-backs with a cut in the number of English language teachers.

So it seems it has been the old, the poor and the young who have felt the fierce brunt of this budget. The medical card issue has been dealt with, while not everyone is satisfied it is a vast improvement; low income earners must be relieved now that the one per cent levy will not apply to those earning the minimum wage or less; but education needs serious attention.

People power has been to the fore over the last week in our small democratically run country, but having said all of the above, it has weakened the Government in terms of its authority and while the onus is on them to get the important issues right, a line also needs to be drawn because hard measures need to be taken. Not everyone can afford to stand up and be “patriotic” and it is up to those who can afford it to stand up and be counted in these tough economic times, while the more vulnerable are protected.

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