THE Government has performed a dramatic U-turn on cuts to funding for personal panic alarms for the sick and elderly.
The Department of the Environment has announced that full funding of €2.2m will be made available this year for the Senior Alert Scheme – following a public outcry.
But officials will examine ways to reduce the cost, including asking service providers to provide applicants with reprogrammed devices instead of new equipment.
The move follows warnings that planned grant cuts would have added to the fears of older, vulnerable people living alone in the wake of burglaries targeting the elderly and the closure of garda stations.
The department yesterday announced that full funding would be available this year after savings were identified in its annual budget.
It was announced last week that the allocation had been cut by half, to €1.1m, along with changes to eligibility criteria.
This meant that a grant given to 23,686 people to pay for the alarms would have been reduced from €250 to €230.
In addition, over-65s not living alone would no longer qualify for the panic button, which is hooked up to a call centre through their phone line. The cuts were to apply from next month.
The department denied Environment Minister Phil Hogan had performed a U-turn, but acknowledged that "unnecessary distress" had been caused.
"The same allocation and the same eligibility criteria will apply," a spokesman said.
"We have re-examined the estimates and identified a way to retain the allocation at the same level as last year. The minister accepts this has caused unnecessary distress on elderly people.''
The Carers Association welcomed the move, saying it had received hundreds of calls from people concerned at the move.
Spokeswoman Catherine Cox said: "I think perhaps they didn't think it through. We would welcome this. I think given the number of burglaries in the last couple of months, it gives people peace of mind. It should never have been touched.
"This is good news, but in terms of family carers the biggest issue is still the cut in the respite care grant. We don't want that to be pushed aside."