Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
In the area of health, I welcome the €50 increase in the medical card threshold for the over-70s. People have been coming to me every week to tell me they have been caught by the threshold. The €150 per couple increase is also most welcome, as is free GP care for the under eights, dental care for the under sixes and a 50 cent reduction in prescription charges, which will help older and vulnerable people. The 1,000 extra Sláintecare staff are welcome. A lot of people are on waiting lists in my area of Limerick, and University Hospital Limerick is in the news every single day of the week in relation to people waiting for appointments. It is one of the most overcrowded hospitals in the country. Front-line staff are particularly welcome because that is where the big issue is.
I welcome the announcement on Alzheimer's disease and dementia carers, for which the dementia committee, of which I am a member, has been pushing for a long time. Senator Kelleher has put many of these issues on the map and has made us all very proactive around them. The measures on respite care and school leavers with a disability are also welcome, as is the greater discretion that is being allowed in the area of medical cards. Recently, terminally ill people have come to me and told me they had to apply three or four times for a medical card. It is not acceptable in this day and age for people with a terminal illness to have to keep reapplying. I would like more emphasis to be put on healthcare.
I attended a meeting on autism last night. There is a shortage of therapists and delays for people waiting to see a psychologist. It is most welcome that investment will be made in this area, though it is only a start and I would like more to be done in the future. The Sláintecare report is an all-party document and has the support of most people who want a good health system. As the education spokesperson for Fine Gael, I must say the highest ever education budget is most welcome, as are the 1,000 SNAs and 400 special needs teaching posts. At the public meeting I attended last night, it was clear that there are not enough of these places, especially for people with autism. It is a welcome start but it needs to be expanded upon.
Funding was announced for air access to regional airports, which is critical for the mid-west. Limerick Chamber of Commerce, representatives of which were in these Houses last week, launched a report on Shannon Airport. The airport is crucial, not only for Limerick and Clare but for the mid-west. It is right on our doorstep, as is the port authority. Ports and airports were both mentioned in the budget and it is time to start looking at these in terms of balanced regional development. We need our regions to thrive for inward investment. The companies that have expanded to create 13,000 jobs in recent years have all referred to the port and airport on our doorstep as being crucial for job creation.
We need to look again at the living cities initiative, which was started a number of years ago but which is not working. Some people are investing in their properties but the scheme is very cumbersome, so the Department should take a look at it. Getting people back into the cities would increase footfall, which leads to job creation.