Brexit threat to Senior Alert Scheme, says minister

The alert system which protects elderly people in their homes could be put at risk by a hard Brexit, Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has warned.

As the threat of a hard Brexit intensifies, the everyday impacts for the general public are becoming clearer, with Mr Ring warning of issues with supplying alarms to those in the Senior Alert Scheme.

With just 39 days until the critical March deadline, all Government departments have been working on easing the potential fallout from a no-deal Brexit and have drafted emergency legislation that would be required if Britain crashes out of the EU.

This omnibus legislation, which takes in nine departments and covers 16 areas, will be brought to Cabinet tomorrow and is due to be published on Friday.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney will also meet with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the fringes of an EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels today.

British prime minister Theresa May is due to travel to Brussels later in the week as she tries to gain concessions around the backstop. However, EU leaders remain adamant that the protections must remain in place.

Ms May has written to all 317 Conservative MPs in a bid to get them to unite behind a Brexit deal and warned her party members that “history will judge us all” over the process.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Ring said the Senior Alert Scheme, which provides security and comfort to elderly people living alone in isolated areas across the country, is one of the areas that have been identified by his department.

He said that some of the pendants worn by elderly people, which are used to raise an alarm if they get into difficulty, are sourced in the UK and so the supply of these could be impacted.

“There are one or two issues that we would have concern about; one is in relation to the Senior Alert Scheme, a lot of that equipment comes from Britain,” said Mr Ring.

However, Mr Ring said his department would work hard to find alternative suppliers if required and said funding could also be reallocated in the wake of Brexit to tackle specific issues.

“I have a good bit of flexibility with funding and I need it because at times I need to target money,” he said.

“With Brexit, where the need will be, we will have the flexibility to put the funding in where it is needed. We can’t do anything at the moment because we don’t know where we are, we will do whatever we have to do when the time comes.”

Fianna Fáil’s spokeswoman for older people, Mary Butler, said she would be very concerned about any disruption to the Senior Alert Scheme and said it shows the massive impact a hard Brexit would have on almost every aspect of life in Ireland.

“It is worrying because this particular scheme works very well. It’s run by Pobal and it provides great comfort to older people living alone or in isolated rural areas,” said Ms Butler, whose 82-year-old mother lives on her own and has availed of the scheme.

“I don’t think the ordinary person on the street realises what will happen and the extent to which we will be impacted if there is a hard Brexit.”

Mr Ring also warned that there could be difficulties with the supply of library books after a no-deal Brexit.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), which sources books, said the supply of services by UK suppliers to the public libraries is being assessed.

“The LGMA will continue to work with our UK suppliers to ensure that any necessary changes to processes conform with any new requirements imposed.”

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney will host a meeting of EU and Arab foreign ministers tomorrow on Tuesday to discuss the Middle East peace process. Mr Coveney met with the Egyptian minister last night after he arrived in Dublin, and a reception will be held tonight in Áras an Uachtaráin.

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