Kevin Doyle: There's a smell of election around the €5 pension hike
Published 06/10/2016 | 02:30
If anybody is in any doubt about the fragility of the Government, they just need to look at how much focus is being put on the elderly ahead of Budget 2017.
It was a quiet Sunday in early August when Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea broke ranks to make a €5 pension hike a redline issue.
The wily Limerick TD stole a march on everybody else, and effectively forced the increase from a Fine Gael party who were afraid to say what they are really thinking: That €150m can be better used right now.
There's no doubt that pensioners deserve to share in the recovery too. That's not an issue.
But why should they get almost a quarter of the €660m available for spending increases in the form of a universal payment?
Some 86pc of people aged between 65 and 74 own their homes, rising to 89pc for the over 75s.
Admittedly many are struggling with rising insurances costs, property tax payments and fuel prices. Prescription charges rose to shameful levels during the recession. And since 2009 the number of older people living in deprivation in Ireland has risen from 9.5pc to 14.3pc.
OAPs face enormous barriers to staying in or returning to the workplace.
Action say there are 85,000 older people who struggle to choose between keeping the house warm, paying for medicine or just making the groceries bill.
Do these people need help in Budget 2017? Absolutely.
But it should be targeted help, going to those most in need through things like the fuel and telephone allowance.
This point has been argued privately in the budget negotiations by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and even some members of the Independent Alliance.
However, others are looking at the bigger picture which is that the next election is not very far away.
Older people vote with their feet and their pencils in a way that the so-called 'squeezed middle' who are struggling with mortgages, childcare, transport and food costs simply don't have time to.
Ever since Brian Lenihan attempted to take medical cards away from the over 70s, politicians of all hues have been terrified of the grey vote.
The fact that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are willing to give them a €5 handout in a Budget where we're being warned to keep our expectations low doesn't sit comfortably.
But it seems that most TDs have one eye on the campaign trail.