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15,000 elderly and 10,000 young join in day of protest

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Pensioners protest outside Leinster House under a strongly-worded banner on the medical
card fiasco

Pensioners protest outside Leinster House under a strongly-worded banner on the medical card fiasco

A protester holds up a placard outside the Dail as thousands of elderly people vented their fury at the Government over the medical card decision

A protester holds up a placard outside the Dail as thousands of elderly people vented their fury at the Government over the medical card decision

A man shows the strength of his feeling about the proposed cuts to over-70s medical card entitlements during yesterday's protest
outside the Dail in Dublin

A man shows the strength of his feeling about the proposed cuts to over-70s medical card entitlements during yesterday's protest outside the Dail in Dublin

Thousands of pensioners gather outside the gates to Leinster House to protest against the
Government's planned restrictions on medical cards entitlements

Thousands of pensioners gather outside the gates to Leinster House to protest against the Government's planned restrictions on medical cards entitlements

A man give his verdict as junior minister with
responsibility for the elderly, Maire Hoctor's attempts to address the crowd

A man give his verdict as junior minister with responsibility for the elderly, Maire Hoctor's attempts to address the crowd

Ellie Leavy, Rose Comerford and Margaret O'Neill
make their voices heard

Ellie Leavy, Rose Comerford and Margaret O'Neill make their voices heard

Health Minister Mary Harney bore the brunt of many people's ire

Health Minister Mary Harney bore the brunt of many people's ire

Protesting pensioners stretch all the way along
Molesworth Street

Protesting pensioners stretch all the way along Molesworth Street

Retired mineworkers lead the march on the Dail

Retired mineworkers lead the march on the Dail

Isaac Hopkins from Cabra stays on the right side of the law during the protest

Isaac Hopkins from Cabra stays on the right side of the law during the protest

A protester illustrates the depth of feeling among the elderly who protested in Dublin yesterday

A protester illustrates the depth of feeling among the elderly who protested in Dublin yesterday

A placard casts Taoiseach Brian Cowen in a negative light

A placard casts Taoiseach Brian Cowen in a negative light

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Pensioners protest outside Leinster House under a strongly-worded banner on the medical card fiasco

THEY came in their thousands, marching as one from all corners of the land.

They were armed only with their free travel passes, the iron in their souls, the anger in their hearts and fire in their bellies.

Disembarking from chartered coaches, mini-buses, cars and trains, they formed a formidable force of 15,000 and prepared to lay siege to their target.

They swept through the streets of the capital with one single goal -- to shake Leinster House and deliver a simple message: they will not go quietly.

The Silver Revolution had begun.

The last time many had taken to the streets in this fashion was when they were students.

It was an extraordinary coincidence, and a sign of how the Budget has alienated so many, that shortly after the pensioners' protest reached its climax up to 10,000 third-level students should arrive at the Dail, deeply angered over fees.

Like the pensioners, the students came from everywhere, and they brought just one message: 'No to fees'.

It was a remarkable day. The elderly and the young taking to the streets. When have we we ever seen the like? It was a breathtaking sight as our mighty Grey Army mobilised to display a battling spirit few realised had lain under the respectability of old age.

A slumbering beast that the Government must most bitterly regret rousing with the casual wave of a stick.

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But then, these are the people who truly understand that your health really is your wealth -- and they were determined to hold on to it, whatever obstacle stands in their way.

To most of them, the excursion was a pleasure, a welcome opportunity to bond with their peers over their mutual outrage, a chance to hit the capital to show the younger generation a thing or two.

And they chatted merrily among themselves as they poured up the city streets in a purposeful wave, banners and placards ablazing.

But for some, the mission took all the strength they could muster. The chill wind that blustered along Molesworth Street -- despite the piercing autumn sunshine -- made the frail shiver and the swell of the crowd made the weak feel faint. Some even collapsed. There were the ill, there were the cancer sufferers, there were people in wheelchairs, rugs over their knees.

Wheelchair-bound Rita Nolan (88) from Castlebar, now living in Dublin, had arrived early to take her place in front of the stage for the demonstration organised by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

"She insisted on coming," said her daughter Maureen.

Poignant

And so, while the mass turnout of our nation's elderly was humbling and impressive, it was also deeply poignant. They should not have had to be there at all.

With Molesworth and Kildare streets well and truly filled up in advance of the 12.30pm starting time, the rally began.

Maire Hoctor, the Minister for Older People, had been invited to speak, but her name was uttered to a chorus of jeers and boos when organisers announced she had been delayed. Some 20 minutes later she materialised -- but met the same fate as John Moloney had the previous day and was barely allowed to speak amid volleys of 'Out, Out, Out' and 'Lies.'

In vain, the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament representatives pleaded with them for quiet -- but all Ms Hoctor managed to get in was an apology that they had felt compelled to come. There wasn't one colleague of hers who did not acknowledge their anger, she said.

She was about to embark on the Government line that 95pc of older people would not be affected by the recent changes to the medical card scheme when the chants grew even more deafening, and she was forced to retire in defeat. The roars of 'Fianna Fail Out' could not fail to have been heard along the plush corridors of Leinster House.

Eloquence

As Enda Kenny addressed them with some eloquence, the older people chatted among themselves. They were not there for political speeches, they were content merely to attend.

A man with a 'No Card, No Treaty', in reference to Lisbon, was reprimanded by a woman who said the one issue did not mean the same as the other.

A different placard bore a more heartfelt message: 'Mr Cowen, you seem to forget we're the ones who tightened our belts. We gave you our vote. Then where there were no beds, we lay on trolleys. Now you want to take our pills. Do you want to lay down and die?'

Ciaran Cuffe sounded desperate as he pleaded that the Greens had learned their lesson from this, saying: "We will never take you for granted." Some pensioners chuckled grimly.

"I wouldn't vote for you," one woman in the crowd stopped Liz McManus to inform her.

"You don't have to vote for me but I have to vote for you," Ms McManus informed her. Caoimghin O Caolain told them not to to stop at medical cards -- their grandchildren need them in the fight against increasing class sizes.

Joe Higgins, of the Socialist Party, got a warm cheer as he informed them this was the biggest demonstration of ordinary people in our society "for many a long day"

The rally over, Gerald Whyte (70) from Kerry had a dark take on the medical card debacle -- a certain section of society would rather the old and incapacitated" dropped down dead", he said, likening the situation to Nazi Germany.


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