Marie makes emotional appeal to Kenny over 'disgraceful' grant cuts
MARIE Fleming has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to reverse what she says is a "disgraceful" government decision to abolish the mobility allowance.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, Ms Fleming, the terminally ill multiple sclerosis sufferer, who last week lost her legal battle to end the ban on assisted suicide, said she would relish the opportunity to meet Mr Kenny to tell him first-hand how the ending of the allowance, along with cuts to other benefits, was affecting thousands of people like her all over Ireland.
The Government controversially announced in February that the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant – which benefits more than 5,000 disabled people – were to end in June. It claimed it had been advised to revise both allowances so they were compliant with the Equal Status Act.
The Mobility Allowance is a means-tested monthly payment from the HSE to those aged 16-66 years who have a disability and are unable to walk or use public transport and who would benefit from a change in surroundings.
The benefit is worth €208.50 per month, with a lower rate of €104.25 per month paid to those who are availing of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) scheme.
On February 26, 2013, the Department of Health announced that the Mobility Allowance scheme was closed to new applicants, claiming an "alternative scheme" was being devised to replace it by the end of June.
Ms Fleming (59) is in the final stages of MS and is wheelchair-bound with no use of her legs or arms. She was a lecturer in UCD before she had to stop due to her illness and now requires 24-hour care.
Ms Fleming said the cuts in allowances, and increases in transport and fuel costs, meant that she could not even afford basic items like face cream and body moisturisers. "I love cream for my skin because it gets very, very dry, but I can't afford basic creams like Ponds or Nivea. That pains me. If anyone is buying me a present, they buy me moisturising body cream. I'm a woman. I still like to think I'm feminine."
She said cuts in fuel allowances hit people with MS especially hard as they needed constant heat.
"An MS person gets so cold, they are cold to the bones.
"I think Enda Kenny should be ashamed of himself. I would like to highlight to him the effect of the cuts in benefits, in pensions and the fuel system for elderly people."
She said she would be available to meet him, if her health allowed, to tell him herself the hardship cuts were causing.
Ms Fleming's partner, Tom Curran, revealed that when his partner had a chest infection that almost killed her in March, he was left to cope on his own with no palliative care help.
He was up every night with Ms Fleming, giving her a nebuliser to help her breathe, and clearing phlegm from her lungs.
A former IT consultant, he gave up his business 12 years ago to look after Ms Fleming full time.
Ms Fleming said she had been let down by the State and the courts. The Supreme Court last week ruled against her in her bid to have the ban lifted on assisted suicide. She wants her partner to be allowed to help her die without fear of prosecution when she feels she can go on no more.
She had argued the ban on assisted suicide breached her Constitutional rights and discriminated against her as a disabled person.
Ms Fleming accused the Government of having no empathy for people like herself.
"I worked in the labour force. My money went to pay stamps. We were in a depression in the 1970s and here we are now in 2013 and they are cutting the benefits of people while we sink further into recession."
Ms Fleming also revealed she has written a book about her life and her legal battle, with the help of a scribe who came to her house every week.
She has an agent who is trying to secure a book deal.