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Sunday 25 February 2018

Ailish O’Hora: 'Free’ GP card scheme for the under 5s is a sham we can't afford

Health Minister James Reilly arriving at Government Buildings to give a statement to the Dail last night
Health Minister James Reilly arriving at Government Buildings to give a statement to the Dail last night

SO a day before a budget designed to take €2.5bn out of the economy, we hear that plans for free GP cards for the under 5s will go ahead.

Call me cynical but isn’t this just the kind of political grandstanding that got us further into the economic mess in the first place.

Here are five reasons why the plan is a sham we can't afford that could come back to haunt us.

There is no such thing as ‘free’

There are estimates out there that this plan will cost €40m. Says who? GPs haven’t signed up to it and that could cause problems in the future. Remember Fianna Fail’s plans for free GP care for the over 70s.? That should be another cautionary reminder that plans like this don’t come for free and we do not know how much it will cost.

Keeping the Labour Party in the game

Fine Gael’s coalition partners Labour are floundering in the polls, no matter which one you look at. It’s clear now that making promises that could never be kept ahead of the last election was ill advised. Remember ‘Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way’ – we all know how that panned out. And according to the polls, voters haven’t forgotten. The Labour Party has all but signed away any semblance of being a so-called socialist party and this plan is designed to make them look better – problem is it doesn’t stack up.

The country is still broke, we can’t afford it

Despite the lower than original €3.1bn budget adjustment being announced tomorrow by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, we are still broke and can’t afford such luxuries. We are still spending more than we are taking at a rate of just under a billion a month. Let’s not forget that as we gear up to exit the €67.5bn EU/IMF/ECB bailout later this year.

Buying votes

This ill-conceived plan is payback for the middle classes as we come towards the end of a long line of austerity budgets. There’s no doubt most of us are broke by the end of the month but why should someone who can pay medical costs not pay? I accept that those in the higher tax brackets are squeezed too but there must be a more targeted, equitable way to help out parents rather than throwing a blanket scheme at the voting classes.

Finally, what about those being left behind for the cause?

Health Minister James Reilly has admitted that seriously ill people who need help are already losing their medical cards. And what about the unemployed youth? A new reduced dole payment for those out of work aged under 26 will part pay for this plan.  Certainly the social welfare system needs to be overhauled but the 100,000 long-term unemployed who remained jobless during what was once hailed as the boom were not the under 30s.


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