Taoiseach defends Budget amid demonstrations over price hikes
Beleaguered Taoiseach Enda Kenny sought to defend Budget 2012 yesterday amid criticism that families are being hit hard by hikes in college fees and health insurance.
Mr Kenny admitted that the Budget affected "every single person in the country".
It was recently revealed that VHI customers were facing their third price hike in just over a year -- related to government plans to charge health insurers each time a privately-insured patient uses A&E.
Students, meanwhile, face a 50pc rise -- to €3,000 -- in 'registration' costs over the next three years.
Speaking in Cork yesterday the Taoiseach said the decisions made by the Government in the Budget were focused on the protection of income, job creation and on people having choices.
"It's a case here of the Government working with people through this challenge, not of the Government telling people this is what you have to do," Mr Kenny said.
"That's why 330,000 (people) were taken out of the universal social charge . . . that's why the minimum wage was reversed . . . that's why income tax is unchanged . . . so that people could have clarity about planning their lives and the challenges that we face," added the Taoiseach.
In respect of hikes to third-level registration fees, the Taoiseach said the increase this year was €250.
He said third-level education was an "expensive business" but that "we've got to have it at its best if our country is going to thrive and prosper".
Mr Kenny held a private meeting with protesting Vita Cortex workers as well as facing angry demonstrations during his day-long visit to Co Cork.
He encountered a picket in Ballincollig organised by anti-household charge protesters -- and then major protests in Bantry by healthcare campaigners furious at proposed cutbacks to the local hospital and ambulance services.
Several hundred protesters gathered in the west Cork town as Mr Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly attended a retirement function for veteran Fine Gael TDs Jim O'Keeffe and Paddy Sheehan.
Both men retired at the last general election after a combined 60-plus years in the Dail -- and the Westlodge Hotel celebration was to honour their political careers.
The 32 Vita Cortex workers have been conducting a sit-in protest at their former Kinsale Road factory since December 16 in a row over the non-payment of promised redundancy packages.
Between them, the workers have a total of 847 years of service.
The staff welcomed Mr Kenny's gesture -- and the meeting was described as private.
"I want to reassure them that whatever the State can actually do to assist the process of bringing this to a conclusion is going to be available to them," Mr Kenny told the Irish Independent.
The Government has fast-tracked statutory redundancy and the protesters will receive their payments from Monday.
The workers vowed to continue their sit-in protest until Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan honours a top-up payment promise.
Mr Kenny said the Government would not be "pandering" to businessmen in any such disputes.
Last night Mr Kenny also faced protests when he attended the Cork Chamber of Commerce annual dinner in City Hall where he was keynote speaker.