FG Budget Reaction Part 1

Complete lack of childcare measures in Budget ‘07- Stanton

Fine Gael Social Affairs Spokesman, David Stanton TD, welcomed some of the increases in today’s Budget but said that Minister Cowen missed major opportunities by all but ignoring childcare and once again, neglecting spouses who stay at home.

‘There are few surprises in today’s Budget but the lack of innovation from this Government, especially when it comes to childcare provision, is profoundly disappointing and highlights just how quickly the Government is running out of steam.

‘While the introduction of some measures that Fine Gael has long been calling for, particularly pensions increase and providing a half-rate for carers, is welcome, major opportunities have been missed particularly in the areas of childcare, carers and child poverty.

‘The Government completely ignored childcare provision and, despite the massive increases in crèche costs that are coming in the New Year, the early childcare supplement will not be increased by one penny. Spouses who stay at home were similarly overlooked and there is nothing on after-school care.

‘After 10 years in power, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have once again refused to implement any paid parental leave and families are further left behind as there is still absolutely no paternity leave. The increase in maternity leave cannot hide this.

‘Increasing the income disregard for children to €15,000 will do little to encourage take -up as, once a childcare provider earns €15,001, they are liable to be taxed on the full out. Last year only 3% of all those eligible to apply for the tax relief refused to do so and it is clear that a similarly small take-up is expected this year.

‘I warmly welcome the adoption of Fine Gael’s policy of allowing carers receive the State pension along with a half payment of the Carer’s Allowance. However, the 3,000 carers that are under 18 have, once again, been ignored in the Budget and with billions to spend, this is inexcusable.

Child Benefit and Child Poverty
‘Increasing child benefit is welcome but the question has to be asked, how much benefit will €2.50 a week be to hard-pressed families. As admitted previously by the Government, adopting a second-tier payment targeted at child poverty is the most effective way of alleviating this social blight yet this was completely absent from the Budget.

‘Today the Government showed a complete lack of imagination and their missed opportunities are to be rued by carers, all those who are involved in and use childcare and the thousands of children in poverty in Ireland.’

Budget 2007: no surprises, no imagination & no reform

Commenting on Budget 2007 today (Wednesday) Fine Gael Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson, Richard Bruton TD, has said it contains no surprises, shows no imagination, and won’t bring any reform of how taxpayers’ money is spent. It represents a Government running out of steam and out of ideas.

‘The key issue here is not the Government’s ability to spend, it is their ability to deliver decent public services. This is the Government’s tenth year in power. In the last five years, Minister Cowen has raised and spent more than €258,000 million. But people are asking: why has a Government that made so many promises, which had so much money, still let down so many people who depended on them?

– We were promised an end to waiting lists. Instead still have hundreds of people on trolleys and thousands more on waiting lists;
– We were promised Zero Tolerance. Instead criminal gangs have got the upper hand;
– We were promised a Metro by 2007. Instead we have day-long congestion on the M50 and a bus service which has received no extra buses for five years;
– We were promised affordable homes in sustainable communities, but instead inept policy has abandoned first time buyers to hopeless lotteries and long commutes from distant green field sites where no facilities exist.

‘This is the Government’s ten year legacy. These are not the problems of success, they are the problems of failure: failure of vision, failure of courage, failure to plan, failure to reform, failure to manage.

‘Fine Gael welcomes the measures in Budget 2007 to support small and medium sized enterprises, as well as the increased provisions for older people. However, this Budget will not help the hard-working families who are struggling with childcare costs, and are facing a 6% hike in VHI policies and higher fuel charges.

‘And he missed a major opportunity to reform stamp duty which remains a major impediment to anyone trying to get on the housing ladder. Targeted reform of stamp duty as advocated by Fine Gael would have eased the burden facing first time buyers. Furthermore, the increases in mortgage tax announced by the Minister will be eaten up by rising interest rates, and taxpayers are still seeing no reform of how their money is being spent. This Budget has plenty to say about spending, but says little about its impact on the ground or at the frontline.

– Will it shorten A and E queues? No.
– Will it make our streets safer? No.
– Will it speed up traffic? No.’

Hundreds on trolleys, thousands on waiting lists, no new thinking in Budget ‘07 – Twomey

Govt has ensured private health insurance will continue to rocket

Fine Gael Health Spokesperson, Dr Liam Twomey TD, has said Budget 2007 contains no new thinking on health and looks set to continue the Government’s record of failing to deliver on their promises.

‘This is now the tenth Budget from a Government that is out of ideas, out of imagination and clearly running out of steam. They have failed to end waiting lists with numbers heading for 29,000. They failed to deliver the 3,000 promised beds by more than two thirds. Already in the first few days of December numbers on trolleys in A&E have exceeded 200.

‘This Government is addicted to stealth taxes and in this Budget the 25% increase in the cost of private beds in public hospitals will see private health insurance costs, which have already increased by 25% in the past two years, continue to rocket. On top of this the Health Minister herself has admitted that her private hospital plan will drive premiums up even more.

‘While additional funds for long-term care and the provision for home care packages for elderly people are welcome, the long-term care package must recognise the shortage of inpatient beds for convalescence and rehabilitation which is leading to acute beds being occupied inappropriately. Failing to do will see the knock-on effects of hundreds of patients on trolleys and thousands of operations cancelled continue.

‘I welcome the proposed increase in the subvention rate, which has remained untouched since 2001 despite significant increases in nursing home charges, however there is work to be done on qualifying criteria which see many elderly people who should be eligible turned down. I must wait for further details of the Health Minister’s plans for the elderly but it is still my strong contention that the Government is pursuing a route that may see many forced to sell their homes to fund their nursing home care. It is deeply disappointing to see that there is nothing in today’s Budget to ensure that the Leas Cross scandal is not repeated in Homes around the country.

‘The proposals which Fine Gael has put forward would, at a relatively modest cost, have made a real difference to patients. In Government we will develop 15 Urgent Care Centres as an alternative to A and E and provide of 1,500 step down beds to free up acute beds. In contrast, this Government, after 10 years in power and approaching a cumulative spend of €70 million on health, produces a Budget with no new thinking, no imagination and a clear signal they are running out of steam.’

Budget overlooks vital psychological services in Education – Enright

– Real needs in Education overlooked in Budget
– No new ICT initiatives means Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ will continue to be built on sand

Olwyn Enright TD, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Education and Science, has today (Wednesday) sharply criticised the Government for failing to use Budget 2007 to overhaul vital psychological services in the education system, and to underpin the ongoing development of Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’.

Deputy Enright also commented that Government spending for 2007 will not address many of the endemic problems in the education sector because funding is neither being focussed at areas of real need, nor being accompanied by real reform. ‘I am deeply disappointed that the Minister for Finance has completely overlooked education in his Budget 2007 speech, ignoring the monumental problems which our education system faces today.

‘Earlier this week, I called on the Minister for Finance to prioritise two key areas within his budget. Firstly, 50% of primary schools are not covered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). An additional allocation of €5 million, on top of the amount set aside in the recently published estimates, would allow NEPS to provide a service to all schools. However, this issue has been overlooked once again, and thousands of primary school children will continue to fall outside the scope of this service next year.

‘Secondly, it is simply disingenuous for the Government to pledge allegiance to the development of Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ without backing up this commitment in a tangible way. The Government should have used Budget 2007 to ramp-up support for maths, science and ICT in the education system. No new initiatives in this area means that Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ will continue to be built on sand.

‘From 2002 to the end of 2007 more than €41.5 billion will have been spent on Ireland’s education system, but this expenditure has not resulted in the type of radically improved education system that Irish children and young people deserve. A lack of focus, and a lack of reform, has characterised the approach of this Government to education spending:

– 30% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds still have serious literacy problems;
– Almost one in five young people leave school without a qualification;
– Many children with special needs, or psychological problems, are left behind in our system;
– An unacceptable number of buildings are substandard, with science labs, computer facilities and sports infrastructure being particularly poor;
– Absenteeism is rife, with 47,000 school children missing more than 20 days of school a year. This is equal to a full year of school over the primary cycle;
– 111,000 primary school children are in classes of 30 or more.

‘This isn’t just about spending money. Budget 2007 should have set out key priorities in education for the coming year, and funded them accordingly – priorities like improving literacy, keeping children in school, and equipping young people with the knowledge and the skills they will need as adults. Instead, education is overlooked, showing where the real priorities of this Government lie.’

O’Malley Must Go – Kenny

Enda Kenny told the Dáil (today) that he has no confidence in the Minister of State, Tim O’Malley, following the latter’s comments on last night’s Prime Time Investigates. He went on to call for the Taoiseach to seek Minister O’Malley’s resignation over his handling of the services to patients with psychiatric illness and his grossly insensitive comments last night relating to waiting lists for such patients.

‘Mental illness is devastating. It can tear families apart. That is why Fine Gael and Labour selected this issue as the first in a series of joint policy launches on the 5th of September this year. (See link to statement http://www.finegael.ie/news/index.cfm/type/details/nkey/29102/pkey/653/)

‘Minister O’Malley’s comments prove that he has no connection with those families. No warmth, no empathy, no understanding. He has had 4 ½ years to deliver services for the people that need them and he has failed to do so. Therefore, he is totally unsuited to the job. That is why the Taoiseach should seek his resignation.

‘Mental illness is a private illness with very public consequences. When people’s lives are collapsing around them, after ten years of FF and the PDs, they find they have no-one to turn to, nowhere to go. The Government has not addressed this crisis in ten years of record revenue. What makes anyone think they will do it in 15?

‘The Minister is blaming everyone except himself. He is the Minister. The buck stops with him. Evading responsibility is now second nature to this dysfunctional Government. They have had nearly ten years in charge now. Six years ago the First Report of the Working Group on Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services, set up by Minister Martin when he was Minister, said;

‘It is recommended that a total of seven child and adolescent inpatient units for children ranging 6-16 should be developed throughout the country’

‘Six years on and this commitment hasn’t been delivered. Minister O’Malley has been in office for 4 ½ years of those 6 years and has clearly failed to deliver. This is in a period when the Government had booming tax revenues – €8,000 million more collected than expected in the last three years alone – and managed to throw money away on dud projects like PPARS, e-voting and the Bertie Bowl.

‘Today there are 3,000 children waiting for psychiatric assessments with just 13 beds available to cater for their needs. In some cases these children are waiting for four and half years for an assessment – joining the waiting list at the time that Minister O’Malley took office. The HSE has clearly not substantiated Minister O’Malley’s remarks about waiting lists and have left him isolated, save for the support of the Taoiseach who thinks Minister O’Malley is doing his best.

‘Unfortunately, for patients with psychiatric illness Minister O’Malley clearly has no grasp or understanding of their circumstances. He may be doing his best, but his best falls miles short of what this under resourced and under appreciated sector needs. That is why he must go.’

Alternative Govt proposals for A&E should be adopted in Budget 07 – Twomey

Fine Gael Health and Children Spokesperson, Dr Liam Twomey TD, has said that if the Government is serious about making real improvements to the lot of patients in A&E it should adopt Fine Gael and Labour’s proposals in its forthcoming Budget. Dr Twomey said that in particular the alternative Government was proposing investment in 1,500 step down facilities to free up acute beds and the development of 15 Urgent Care Centres to provide an alternative to A&E.

“This Government has consistently failed to make a difference to A&E because it has failed to recognise that bed capacity and the placing of patients in inappropriate beds is at its heart. The occupation of acute beds by patients who no longer need acute care creates the bottleneck that sees hundreds of patients on trolleys in A&E awaiting admission. Similarly the admission of these patients to day case beds when trolley numbers are high is leading to the wholesale cancellation of elective procedures, with recent figures showing 22,000 such operations cancelled across the country.

“Fine Gael, along with our colleagues in Labour, has proposed the provision of 1,500 step down beds with at least 600 in Dublin. These beds will be a mixture of convalescent beds for short duration stays, rehabilitation beds for intensive rehabilitation to improve the patient’s quality of life and long-term continuous care beds. This measure will free up acute beds and relieve the pressure on A&E departments.

“In tandem with this and in recognition of the fact that 75% of patients who present at A&E do not actually require acute care we will provide an alternative to A&E through the development of 15 Urgent Care Centres, with three in Dublin. These centres, staffed by GPs, nurses and backup staff, will be open out of hours and treat relatively minor medical and surgical problems.

“Fine Gael’s proposals are a prime example of the kind of joined-up thinking which is absent from the heart of this Government. That is why, after 10 years of power, billions spent and millions wasted, they will never succeed in making improvements by clinging to their own failed, bankrupt policies. Instead, they should adopt the cost-effective, commonsense measures proposed by Fine Gael and Labour.”

Water charges unjust stealth tax caused by Govt under-funding – Naughten

Speech by Denis Naughten TD at IFA Meeting on Water Charges, Monday December 4th 2006.

Fine Gael Agriculture & Food Spokesman, Denis Naughten TD has branded water charges as a ‘stealth tax’ on food production and farm business, which will put huge financial pressure on many farm families.

Denis Naughten who was addressing an IFA meeting in Roscommon Town on behalf of the Fine Gael Party said this evening:

“Business, including many of our local food businesses and farmers are struggling to survive due to the high cost of energy and other input costs which have risen dramatically over the term of this Government and the proposed increase in water charges will threaten the viability of some operations.

“These increases come at a time when farm incomes have dropped significantly in recent years and the average farm family is operating at a loss of €75 each week. Water charges are even more discriminatory when it comes to farmers, many of whom would have a low usage of water but, due to farm fragmentation, will have to pay for a number of water meters.

“On average, in the West of Ireland, most farmers will require at least three meters, with 20% of farmers requiring five or more meters, given the number of farm parcels they own. It is unjust for Government on the one hand not to facilitate the reduction in farm fragmentation by failing to address the taxation system which taxes farmers at a rate of up to 29% and then impose a water charging structure which penalises farmers who have fragmented holdings.

“Government must get its act together and ensure that farmers are not discriminated against and are treated in a similar manner to all other businesses. The dramatic increase in water charges and the new pricing structure being proposed by local authorities is as a direct result of reduced funding from the Government, which has forced them to make up more of their budget from local taxes and charges.

“For 2007 alone the Minister for the Environment is only increasing the Local Government Budget by a measly 2% which will result in more stealth taxes being levied on households, business and farm families. Such an increase does not take into account the rate of inflation, implementation of the partnership agreement and its impact on salaries nor does it address the dramatic rise in input costs.

“Specifically in the water services area the funding which local authorities will receive in 2007 does not take into account rising wage costs, chemical costs or energy costs. On top of this the rate of payment from the Department of the Environment for domestic water supplies has not increased in order to cover the cost of providing this element of the public water supply. These deficits must be made up by local government and this will be achieved by significant increases in water charges to farmers and business.

“This is despite the fact that, according to the Government’s own report, there will be a €1.5 billion shortfall by 2010 in local government funding. It is absolutely clear that the Government intends to continue their policy of taxing householders, businesses & farm families by stealth in order to make up the massive shortfall that this year’s Budget will not come close to address.

“These new water charges will add to the burden on already hard pressed farmers and business people. It is inexcusable that a time of unprecedented national wealth- and such astonishing waste of public money on everything from PPARS to E-Voting- that Local Authorities are forced to pass on such charges.

“To make the situation even worse the Water Management and Rehabilitation Programme, including water conservation programme, under the National Development Plan, which should have funded the reduction in the scale of leakage on the water supply network hugely underperformed, with only 35% of expenditure actually allocated and drawn down. This is despite the cost-benefit analysis of such water conservation projects which found that these projects were almost invariably highly worthwhile.

“If this funding had been utilised then the scale of leakage from the water distribution network would have been significantly reduced and this would have avoided the situation whereby both farmers and business will have to not only pay for the water they use but the water that leaks from the distribution pipes before it comes near them at all.

“It is wrong for Government to force this stealth tax on business and farm families when this is solely due to Government incompetence. But again we have to pay for the gross mismanagement by this particular Government.

“Rural Water Investment in the NDP was also under funded with only 54% of the original target spent on the programme; part of this funding will have to come from farmers in the future.

“Fine Gael has consistently called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to increase the funding available to councils so that farmers and local businesses are not forced to bear the burden of these charges.

“We also believe that rather than introducing and increasing stealth taxes the Government should collect the money which is owed to them in motor tax. Conservatively the Government estimates that over €40m in motor tax is unpaid every year. This funding would go a significant part of the way to address the under funding of councils throughout the country.

“It is equally unfair on farmers that the current Farm Waste Management Grants do not provide supports to help farmers deal with surplus waste water. It is a huge flaw of this grant scheme that it does not include funding for clean water storage tanks.

“Not only must farmers, in order to comply with the Nitrates Directive, foot the bill for such tanks, but the Department has failed to even provide farmers with a specification guidance document as to the required size of such tanks. But of course that would reduce the Government’s overall take in stealth taxes. Once again this Government has created a problem and left farmers to clean up the mess.

“Furthermore, through the Government’s water pricing policy, all new water schemes must come up with a significant amount of the funding from commercial water rates. In the past local authorities received 100% grant aid for capital works such as the upgrading of waters schemes and laying of water mains. However this has been reduced back to as little as 30% in some circumstance. This is hugely frustrating for farmers who, in many cases, do not benefit from such enhancements. The fact is that these costs will be passed directly on to the public through increased costs on services and food products.

“These new increased charges are caused by Government under-funding of local authorities and will lead to the privatisation of water supplies throughout the country. For many people in rural areas, who established and paid for water schemes, the fact that their investment will now be handed over to private companies is totally unacceptable”.

“Fine Gael opposed the privatisation of water services when this law came before the Dáil but sadly, our local Government TD’s supported such privatisation at that time.

“Fine Gael wants to ensure that farmers are not discriminated against due to farm fragmentation. We are also want water storage facilities included as part of the farm waste management grant which would help farmers reduce there overall liability for water charges.

“And we want proper funding for local authorities to cover the cost of running services, upgrading water schemes and detecting leaks.”

€400,000 Gone on Irish Language Centre that doesn’t exist – Kenny

– Delay in Irish Language Education Centre testament to Govt Attitude to Irish Language

Speaking during a visit to the site of the proposed Irish Language Education Centre at Ballyvourney, Co Cork, the Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny TD has today said that the delay of more than six years in providing this centre is testament to the double standards of Fianna Fáil on the question of the Irish language. A PQ reply to Fine Gael confirmed that, up to 2005, €400,000 had been spent on the project.

“In June 2000, the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Education and Science came to Ballyvourney and turned the sod on what was to be a new Irish Language Education Centre – Ionad Náisiúnta Gaeilge. He committed to this centre being completed by mid 2001, and described the initiative as ‘one of the most significant developments in the history of Irish language education’.

“Significant? Yes. Delivered? No. The Irish Language Centre, promised in the 1997 Fianna Fáil and PD Programme for Government, has still not materialised – turned sods notwithstanding.

“Parents, students and teachers know that it’s not unusual for this Government to simply drop their education promises. This has happened repeatedly, in both terms of office. However, the situation in Ballyvourney again highlights the outright double standards of Fianna Fáil when it comes to the Irish language.

“Minister Hanafin would have the people believe that the Irish language is only safe in her hands. She has ridiculed proposals from Fine Gael to engage in wide-ranging and long-overdue reform of Irish language teaching and learning. These proposals come from a realistic and honest acknowledgement of the crisis facing our language. And yet, on her watch, Government promises to support the language are again put on the long finger.

“Quite amazingly, Minister Hanafin has managed to spend up to €400,000 on a centre that still does not exist. When are we going to see this spending result in something tangible? Or, given the fact that the Minister’s Department keeps changing their mind on the provision of this centre, has this money been frittered away?

“Mary Hanafin knows full well that schools in Gaeltacht areas and Gaelscoileanna are finding it very difficult to find teachers with the high level of competency in Irish that they require. The Ionad Náisiúnta Gaeilge at Ballyvourney should have been up and running for the last five years, devising training courses for teachers to ensure that they have the highest level of competency in the language, and ensuring that they understand the methodologies that should be used in delivering the best possible language tuition to their students.

“I have already set out my agenda to improve Irish language teaching including an increased focus on the Irish language for new and practising teachers, the utilisation of the best available modern technology and teaching methods for the Irish language, and the development of a specialist Language Support Corps to help individual primary schools which are having particular difficulties with the teaching of Irish.

“The centre at Ballyvourney was to be a national centre of excellence, with the remit of engaging with educational institutions from pre-school to third-level. Now, more than ever, this centre is badly needed. In the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the making of this promise, it’s time for Fianna Fáil to finally make good on their word.”

Govt shuts down Dáil for two days running – Kehoe

Fine Gael Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe TD, has expressed outrage at the Government today (Thursday) for shutting down the Dáil for a second day running due to a lack of business.

The Dáil sitting was suspended shortly after 2.00pm for ninety minutes after the second stage of the Investment Funds Companies and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2006 concluded as the Government refused to timetable any Dáil business whatsoever.

“The contempt with which the Government holds the Dáil continues as does its record of promising much and delivering little.

“As soon as the debate on the Investment Funds Companies and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2006 finished, the Government should have scheduled some of the vital legislation that needs to be brought through the House but they preferred to suspend the Dáil sitting and discuss absolutely nothing.

“It is not as if there is no legislation to discuss. The 16 Bills on the ‘A’ List still haven’t been touched by the Dáil in this session and the legislative pile-up continues to grow. It is increasingly difficult to see how this legislative Mount Everest will be climbed and there is a strong possibility, as happened last year, that bills will be rushed through and debate ‘guillotined’ to prevent proper analysis.

“Fianna Fáil/ PD Ministers have abandoned the parliament and legislation is left gathering dust. The sooner there is a change of government the better.”

Yet again the Government have nothing to do despite the amount of legislation to be passed and the amount of problems in our society.

Govt shuts down Dáil: Is there is so little to debate? – Kehoe

Wednesday October 11th 2006

Govt shuts down Dáil: Is there is so little to debate? – Kehoe

• Govt’s April 2004 legislative list still has 10 pieces of legislation to be enacted
• 16 Bills on the ‘A’ List

Fine Gael Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe TD, said this evening (Wednesday) that the Government shut down the Dáil for ninety minutes between 5.30 and 7.00 despite the fact that there is a mountain of proposed legislation to be discussed and that Opposition Deputies are denied opportunities to debate issues of importance on a daily basis.

“This is yet another example of this Government under-delivering for the country. Do they really think that after an unjustified 82 day summer break there is so little to debate that the Dáil should be shut down this evening?

“As it stands there are 16 Bills on the ‘A’ List that must go through the Dáil Chamber and, unless these are begun to be dealt with, the legislative pile-up caused by years of Government inaction will get worse.

“In fact, the Government’s legislative list from April 2004 still has 10 pieces of major proposed legislation that are still to be enacted including the Defamation Bill, the Charities Regulation Bill and the Broadcasting Authority Bill.

“Despite this mountain of promised, undelivered legislation the Government sees fit to not only close the Dáil but also stifle debate in other areas, today refusing extra time to debate the Green Paper on Energy and refusing Opposition Deputies requests for parliament time to debate other vital issues. It is no secret that Fianna Fáil TDs in particular have little time for Dáil business but this emasculation of parliamentary power is outrageous even by their standards.

“The contempt with which Fianna Fáil and the PDs hold integrity in public office obviously also extends to the people’s parliament and discussing issues of national importance. This Government should be ashamed of themselves and, if the Dáil hadn’t been suspended this evening, Opposition Deputies would have had the opportunity to say so.”

Govt heading for another expensive PPARS white elephant – Perry

Several Emergency Services concerned they cannot afford new radio system

Several emergency services are concerned they will not be able to afford the Government’s new emergency services radio network if it is designed primarily for the Gardaí, according to Fine Gael Marine Spokesman Deputy John Perry. Deputy Perry warned that if the radio system is incompatible across a range of emergency services, it will end up as an expensive white elephant like the hugely expensive PPARS system, which landed taxpayers with a massive bill of €150 million.

“There are very real fears within the emergency services community that the proposed radio network will be developed primarily to a specification designed by the Gardaí. This could mean the system is beyond affordability for the other blue light services, such as the Coastguard and Lifeboats. A tender process is currently underway for a contract to develop the managed digital radio service throughout the State. This service is intended to provide support to all emergency services. There are serious fears that the project specification will make it difficult for less well-resourced emergency organisations like the Coastguard or the Lifeboat Services to avail of it.

“When I wrote to Finance Minister Brian Cowen, I received a reply from Tim Duggan, the Chair of the InterAgency Procurement Group which was established to manage the procurement of the digital radio service. While Mr Duggan clearly states that the Department of Finance aims to establish a facility which any non-commercial public body will be able to use, he fails to outline how this will be done.

“In light of the whole debacle with PPARS and the incompatibility of that system, I believe the current tender for this project is flawed. If the direction given for the tender is flawed, then the final product will be flawed. There is a risk that, like PPARS, the system could be incompatible across the range of emergency services. The company tendering will only be tendering on the specifications provided, and this system could end up obsolete. There is no indication as to what emergency services, if any, were consulted prior to drawing up these specifications.

“This issue needs to be brought before an Oireachtas Committee for a complete discussion, as it will have serious implications for services provided by the State over the coming years. I also asked Minister Cowen to clarify if existing infrastructure throughout the State would be used, to minimise costs and the proliferation of masts. In response to this query, I was simply told that the locations and costs of the State’s masts would be made available to the chosen provider and that ‘it is up to the tenderer to determine how best to use these resources’. This is simply not good enough. The Government needs to ensure that the State gets the best possible value for money from this project, and must guarantee that the chosen candidate for this project uses the current resources to full advantage.”

3 month wait for pension is forcing elderly into penury – Phelan

Getting new credit card takes 24 hours – getting payment for lifetime’s work takes 14 weeks

Older people applying for their pension are being forced to wait 14 weeks for their first payment, which Fine Gael Seanad Finance Spokesman Senator John Paul Phelan has described as disgraceful.

“A number of people coming up to retirement age have reported significant problems in obtaining their first pension payment. Some pensioners have had to wait more than three months before they received their entitlement.

“One gentleman applied for his pension two months before his retirement age, but was told he would still have to wait 14 weeks before he received his first payment. There was no possibility of an early payment and he was advised not to contact the Department of Social Affairs.

“This is just one of many cases which have been reported to my office. It is a disgrace to think that the Government should treat the elderly in this manner. It takes just 24 hours to successfully apply for a credit card, yet the State expects them to wait 14 weeks to receive payment for a lifetime’s work.

“The Department is advising new pensioners to apply for their pension at least three months before they reach retirement age, which shows a callous disregard for the rights of the elderly to their State pension. Although they can apply to the Community Welfare Office if they run into difficulties, the application process is long and strenuous. There is a danger that some will be left in serious financial difficulties.

“No-one should have to wait three months to receive a new State pension, especially in this day and age. Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan must immediately set about rectifying this disgraceful situation.”

Traumatised suicide bereaved neglected by Govt – Neville

Fine Gael Deputy Health Spokesperson, Dan Neville TD, has said today (Tuesday) that those bereaved by suicide suffered exceptional trauma and accused the Government of neglecting this most vulnerable group.

“Many voluntary suicide bereaved groups do excellent work but I believe that the Health Minister must make a commitment towards the development of suicide bereavement counselling. She should also resource research to advance the knowledge of the special trauma suicide inflicts on family and friends of victims. Bereavement groups as well as individuals should have available from the State professional suicide bereavement counselling from professionals who have specialised training in the area.

“Where suicide is involved, there is a tendency for the bereaved to place blame on themselves, however misplaced, especially if there was conflict before hand. Another common reaction in the aftermath of suicide is anger. The apparent deliberate nature of suicide focuses on anger on the deceased for his or her wilful desertion. There can be a feeling that the deceased had the last word in the quarrel. The suicide bereaved often searches for a scapegoat. If the victim had been in psychotherapy the therapist is the obvious choice. If he was under medical care, the doctor may be blamed and if the victim was an alcoholic, this may be blamed.

“The bereaved searches for meaning. In natural death, meaning can be dealt with spiritually or in the case of the elderly, within the natural cycle of life. Death by suicide however raises many questions. Was the victim in his or her right mind? If there are children involved, will they be more likely to be suicidal because of the death? Was the suicide a sin?

“Bereavement by suicide also visits special problems. Gardaí, coroners and insurance agents often subject families to investigation. The need for special counselling for is vital and should be recognised and supported by Government. It is important for the person bereaved by suicide to express feelings in a non-rejecting atmosphere and reach an understanding of the death in order to preserve his/her own self worth.

“I believe that the Minister for Health and Children has a duty and responsibility to ensure that this service is developed as a matter of urgency. In 2004, official figures of suicide were 457 victims and it is accepted that the true figure is much higher. The Government must accept its responsibility to provide assistance for those bereaved by this tragedy who are made patients by no action of their own.”