Thursday, October 23, 2008

Room @ the Inn

In 2001 the then Fianna Fáil Government extended universal (non-means tested) entitlement to the medical card (a passport to free health care) to all those over 70 years of age.

It was an expensive concession. It was announced before it was firmed up with the doctors who subsequently held the Government over a barrel and extracted maximum fees for their participation. Many of the doctors saw this as a legitimate redressing of the inadequate fees being paid for the treatment of the bulk of their existing medical card patients.

In its recent undignified scramble to balance the recessionary books, the Government, inter alia, withdrew this universal entitlement and subjected it to a means test equivalent to that for other social welfare benefits. This was a breach of trust for the many over 70s who had made life decisions in good faith based on the future availability of this facility.

The over 70s erupted with such vehemence that the Government went into a tail spin. Deputies saw their Dáil seats at risk, county councillors ran for cover. The Government bled and came up with a succession of elastoplast revisions of qualifying thresholds which they claimed now only excluded 5% of the over 70s from benefit.

A negligible saving then, as many of this 5% would not have claimed the card in the first place. So why not simply abandon this proposal which was a major breach of faith with one of the more vulnerable segments of the population. Pride and stubborness and a finger in the dyke. Weakness here could unravel the budget.

Pensioners took to the streets and jammed the switchboards of radio talk-shows in an unprecedented outburst of frustrated anger. They travelled from all parts of the country (free in many cases) to face down the Dublin Government. And they had an effect, even if this was limited to what was required in the short term to buy off the votes of those TDs necessary to scrape the measure through parliament.

So why have I a photo of a church at the head of this post?

Well, the hotel where the pensioners were to assemble was not big enough to accommodate the vast crowd that arrived.

Parish Administrator, Fr. John Gilligan, seeing so many elderly and infirm people overflowing into the street in cold weather, made a snap decision and offered St. Andrew's Church, Westland Row, to house the meeting.

He had the foresight to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the church to forestall any likely criticism. This criticism was subsequently directed at the misuse of a sacred place for secular/political purposes, the "unrestrained" anger of the old folk, and the denial of the right to speak to a junior Government minister who arrived to plead the Government's "case". None of which criticism is worthy of comment.

Remember the Good Samaritan. Remember who Christ threw out of the Temple. Remember his anger.

No mere stable for the old folks this time round, full accommodation at the inn.

Not exactly liberation theology, but socially progressive, nevertheless. This is a city centre parish and it does date from the time of Catholic Emancipation.

To paraphrase another person, I am very glad to see this church, which poured water over me and called me names, and in which I have not been since, put to another constructive use. Long may it continue.


Elizabeth said...

"The over 70s erupted with such vehemence that the Government went into a tail spin."

I love this. After all, we don't normally think of them marching in O'Connell St with placards.

But perhaps this crowd were in rude good health due to their medical cards. :)

Stephen Neill said...

Póló - Agreed A church with closed doors is no church at all! Fr Gilligan did the right thing.