Mon, Mar
22 New Articles

Health could kill Coalition

Health could kill Coalition

Cowley says Labour may leave

Anton McNulty

Labour Party member and former Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley believes that the FG/Lab Coalition will not survive €130 million in health-budget cuts.
Enda Kenny faces one of the biggest challenges of his tenure as Taoiseach, with Labour threatening to withdraw from government over the proposal to make €130 million worth of cuts to the health budget.

Strained to snapping point

Relations between the two government parties have become strained over the massive cuts, with senior members of the Labour party saying that the Fine Gael/Labour coalition may not survive beyond December’s budget.
Galway East TD and Labour Party chairman, Colm Keaveney refused to rule out the possibility of a snap election, adding that the proposed budget cuts were ‘the sort of issue that contributes to the destabilising of a good relationship in government’.
Former Mayo Independent TD, Dr Jerry Cowley, who was Labour’s Mayo candidate in the last general election, expressed deep unease at the the proposed cuts, saying he does not believe that Labour can remain in government if the cuts are forced through.
“I am not at all happy with them,” the Mulranny GP told The Mayo News. “I have big issues with them and I have made my feelings known at the highest level. It does not represent what the Labour party stands for which looks to represent people who cannot represent themselves. I can say with my hand on my heart that this may mark the end of the Labour/Fine Gael coalition. There are strong feelings over this in the party and other people feel that the coalition will not be there any longer if it [health cuts] happens,” he said.
The proposed cuts to be made to the health budget for the remainder of the year will see some 600,000 home-help hours being cut, while €10 million will be cut through a reduction in personal-assistant hours for people with disabilities. They also involve ending the provision for certain medical products for 50,000 medical-card holders, including those which help control cholesterol.
While Dr Cowley predicted that the cuts to the health budget, if introduced, will topple the coalition, he said that he does not believe that Fine Gael would continue in government without Labour, and so he does not expect the cuts to go ahead.
Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have tabled motions of no confidence in Health Minister James Reilly following the announcement of the €130 million cut. Minister Reilly, who is also the party’s deputy leader, has come under intense pressure following the announcement of the budget slash, which was made before his junior partners in the Labour party were informed.

Criticism from within
Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony said that nobody, including James Reilly, was happy making the cuts. However, he admitted that he feels the minister should take a ‘more caring way in dealing with the situation’. He went on to say that although there may be unease among some Labour members, a snap election would not benefit the country. “I think what the country needs now is stability. All a snap election will do is bring a three-month distraction and create an even bigger problem for any government that comes in. We can just look back at the last year of the previous government where there was instability in the dying days of the government and no decisions made. Opinions will always differ but at the same time everyone from all sides needs to keep calm focus all our energies on solving the problems,” he told The Mayo News.

Broken promises
The proposed cuts to the home-help budget were also criticised by Achill-based Fianna Fáil councillor, Micheál McNamara who said it will have a major impact on rural areas where there is a high percentage of elderly people. He added that he does not believe the HSE has the resources to deal with each case on its merit.
“They say the home help will be reviewed on a case by case basis but I fear it will simply be a financial issue. I can’t see the HSE having the staff to review all the home-help cases in Mayo. Belmullet Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh claimed the Government has done a ‘complete U-turn’ on election commitments about health care.
“The excuse that is continually used to close hospital beds and nursing home beds is that it is Government policy to support older people to live at home and in their communities for as long as possible. How can they reconcile this with cutting another 600,000 home help hours, 200 home care packages and €10 million from personal assistants? How many more broken promises can the people of Mayo and rural Ireland take?” she asked.

HAVE YOUR SAY email antonmcnulty@mayonews.ie with your comments