Enda Kenny makes no promise on return of phone allowance
Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to commit to bringing back telephone allowance for older people as politicians were warned not to underestimate Ireland's 'grey vote'.
Mr Kenny pledged to increase the State Pension by €25 a week by 2021 as part of an €870m spending plan dubbed 'Supporting Older People'.
However, he gave no commitment to bring back the €9.50 a month telephone allowance, scrapped in Budget 2014.
The Taoiseach launched the plan targeting older voters at the Avalon Active Age Centre in Sligo town.
It came as Age Action hosted a packed 'town hall' election debate in Cork where politicians were bluntly reminded of the power of the 'grey vote' with Irish pensioners boasting the highest percentage voting rate for any sector of society.
More than 500,000 older people are eligible to vote on February 26 and their turnout at the 2011 election was 88pc.
Mr Kenny said the number of people aged over 65 will double in the next 30 years and the number over 80 will quadruple.
"It is our elders who built this country. We owe them a lot," he said outlining how the spending plan to support the elderly is the "second largest commitment of our long term economic plan".
Fine Gael promises that State entitlements will be "safeguarded and improved" with the increasing pension and capping prescription fees at €17.50 among the key promises.
Mr Kenny was asked if he has any plan to bring back the telephone allowance but refused to give a commitment on the matter.
"What we want to do is to guarantee that the state facilities that older people have will be maintained and will be improved," he said.
"Obviously we will announce other issues in relation to carers and facilities that also impact on older people as time goes on," he added.
At the Age Action meeting the organisation warned that the country is "failing" pensioners.
"Our pensioners are not demographic 'time bombs'. They are not 'bed-blockers'.
"They are men and women whose hard work and sacrifice built our country. And we are failing them," a spokesman said.
Pat Kelly (72) from Blackrock said older people's living standards have been steadily eroded since 2008.
On politician's arguments that the economy is recovery he said: "I haven't seen it. I had to get rid of my private health insurance because I couldn't afford it. I had to get rid of my landline because I cannot afford it.
"We have had a milkman coming to my house since 1928 and I had to cancel that too."
Nora O'Donovan from Cork city said elderly people are sceptical of political promises.
She said her greatest concern revolved around funding for the healthcare system.
"On Christmas Eve I was thrown out (from hospital) at 2pm to an empty house where there was no fire lit or anything," she said.
"There was no one to look after me, no one in the house and they gave me no tablets. And I was just after suffering a mini-stroke."
Nora O'Sullivan from north Cork said she was also concerned about healthcare.
"There are fantastic people working in our hospitals but the pressure they are under is absolutely enormous," she said.
"I was in an emergency department last year and spent almost 30 hours on a trolley. But I was one of the lucky ones.
"I saw patients trying to sleep in arm-chairs and the staff were clearly exhausted."