THEY ask for little – and get even less in return. Now hurt, angry and confused after savage Budget cuts that saw the axe fall on the most vulnerable of our society, carers took to the streets to fight back.
Wheelchair users shivered amid the biting wind that swirled up Kildare Street but were adamant that they would come back every week – if that is what it takes.
The crowd of around 100 people gathered outside Leinster House to oppose government plans to cut respite care grants.
Amongst the "upset and angry" protesters were the elderly, carers and the cared-for. Their voices are rarely heard – they are usually far too busy to waste time in the political arena. But this time it was vital and so they came..
Among them was Carolyn Atkintola, a wheelchair user from Tallaght in Dublin, who also acts as a full-time carer for her mother Elsie Kellaghan.
Her mother is suffering from kidney failure and Parkinson's disease. Carolyn helps her with kidney dialysis three times a day, which takes about an hour each time. Between cuts to telephone rental, electricity allowances, the tripling of prescription charges and cuts to respite care, Carolyn believes she and her mother will be down €514 a year. "That is not small change by anyone's standards," she said.
"I'm tired of my own Government seeing me as little more than a slave – as a cost and not a resource," said Carolyn, adding that carers save the State €4.5bn a year.
Her mother understood why she had to come out and protest. And Carolyn will come out again to march if necessary, until the cuts are reversed, she said firmly.
Lisa Domican, from Greystones, Co Wicklow, told how she is the full-time carer for her two children, aged 13 and 15, who both have autism.
She has lost €600 in the cuts, which she used to pay for respite help during the summer when it matters most to her family. "What have I done to deserve this? If I decide I can't do this job, it would cost the State €300,000 a year to pay for my son alone to live in residential care."
Ann Hughes, from Tullamore, cares for her daughter Debbie (33) who has autism and intellectual disabilities.
She said she worked out what she receives from the State for the service she is providing and it comes to "one cent an hour".
Her annual respite cheque of €1,700 will be slashed next year to €1,300. "I want that €400 back," she said. "How dare they? They had no problem going to my bank account account to take money from me but they didn't cut their pensions."
Fianna Fail senator Mary White said: "The devil of this Budget was in the detail." Campaigner and author Paddy Doyle (pictured) told how the tax office once informed him that he would only be entitled to claim carers' allowance on behalf of his wife if he divorced her first.
Wheelchair-bound Doyle said he would protest for as long as it took to reverse the cuts. He was "sickened" by the "champagne socialists – the Labour Party" for supporting a Budget that attacked the most vulnerable. "Distressing is the word I am tempted to use most," he said.