GREY POWER WILL RISE AGAIN; Campaigners Warn of Massive Protests as IMF Cuts Target the Elderly; Care for Elderly Is Part of Our Culture

Daily Mail (London), March 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

GREY POWER WILL RISE AGAIN; Campaigners Warn of Massive Protests as IMF Cuts Target the Elderly; Care for Elderly Is Part of Our Culture


Byline: Mimi Murray

MASSIVE street protests were predicted last night as the Government considers IMF suggestions to target the elderly in an effort to balance the books.

The International Monetary Fund has drawn up a hitlist of cuts to many of the modest benefits accrued by the elderly - such as subsidised electricity, medical cards and free travel and TV licences.

And in an extraordinary claim, the IMF's review states that older people have 'remained largely unaffected' by recent welfare cuts.

But Government politicians have only to recall the fate of the Cowen coalition over its plans to means-test medical cards for pensioners to fear the return of Grey Power.

Thousands of elderly marched on the Dail in 2008 and forced the government into a humiliating U-turn.

Socialist TD Joe Higgins last night predicted social unrest would follow any 'direct attack' on the elderly, while Age Action Ireland spokesman Eamonn Timmins said in reference to the IMF: 'They don't understand our culture.' Mr Timmins predicted any street protests would dwarf those against the Cowen government.

He said: 'If you consider that 15,000 came out in 2008 and that was over the medical card alone, when you are talking about fuel, travel, pensions and medical cards then I would expect a huge number to take to the streets.' Observers believe that the IMF has underestimated the importance of caring for the elderly in Irish society and culture.

And Age Action's pre-Budget submission, which was published last September, listed 19 policy changes which had already hurt older people. Since its publication more cuts have followed, including an 18-25 per cent cut in free gas/electricity units, a reduction of six weeks in the means-tested winter fuel allowance and changes to eligibility rates for the State Contributory Pension.

In addition, there have been cuts to the HSE's budget which will result in 500,000 fewer home help hours and the closure of 555 and 898 public nursing home beds.

However, Mr Timmins fears that the Government will acquiesce to the IMF nevertheless. 'He who pays the piper calls the tune and our fear is that the Government will roll over and do it.

'We would like to talk to the IMF because they should make suggestions on an informed basis. The IMF might be totally unaware of the huge impact the HSE service plan will have on the elderly, for example. The elderly will not roll over and take this. Older people very often do not drive, and free travel is so important to them.

'The Government would be mad to take this from them as it means they can get out of the house to collect their pensions, for medical appointments or just out for some participation.' He added: 'The IMF doesn't understand our culture of looking after and respecting the elderly.

'Charles Haughey has been vilified for many things but he was the man who brought in free travel for the elderly and a lot of other countries followed suit. It is part of our culture to look after the elderly and the Government has to tell the IMF this.' Socialist Party leader Mr Higgins said that he expects to see increasing opposition and social unrest in response the cuts recommended by the IMF.

'Where is it going to finish up in terms of the attack on the elderly? This is incredible and is all a part of the whole bailout for bankers and bondholders. …

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