Cowen under fire over disability cuts

The Taoiseach was accused today of losing compassion and failing to understand what is happening in homes across the country as hundreds of people demonstrated against cuts to disability services.

Brain Cowen faced a stinging attack from opposition leaders, with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claiming the Government had boosted spending on entertainment and foreign travel.

Families and those suffering intellectual disabilities were to march in Dublin, Galway and Mayo to protest at how they feel essential services have been cut back.

Mr Kenny claimed the Taoiseach would go down in history as having not listened to the plight of those who demanded help from the Government.

“Shame on you and your Government for allowing this to happen,” Mr Kenny said.

“You say that no such decision has been made. Why are thousands of people marching to this house today? Who speaks for these? You certainly don’t.”

Mr Cowen said no decision has yet been made on health spending and that it wasn’t a time to scare vulnerable people.

The Taoiseach said it would not be acceptable for respite services to be cut.

The march on Leinster House in Dublin is being organised by Inclusion Ireland - The National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability.

Chief executive Deirdre Carroll said people with disabilities had been hit with cutbacks without first being consulted.

She claimed the National Disability Strategy was being dismantled over the last two years, compounded by cuts to education and social welfare for people with disabilities.

The Health Service Executive said it has advised that no frontline services should be cut.

In the Dáil, Mr Kenny said the entertainment budget in Government departments was up 66% this year or €1.2m – €289,000 in Mr Cowen’s own department.

He also said no redundancies had been made in the HSE.

“You don’t understand or seem to understand what’s happening in the thousands of homes in this country.”

He added: “Your response is indicative of a Taoiseach and Government who has lost compassion, who doesn’t understand the difficulties and the stress and the pressures that these people are facing.

“And you will go down in history as the Taoiseach who presided over not listening to the call of these people who said ’Government, help us’.”

Amid heckles, Mr Cowen hit back, claiming his Government had provided 400% more for disability services than when Fine Gael was in power.

He said Health Minister Mary Harney and junior minister John Moloney would meet the Brothers of Charity today.

“It is not acceptable to me or this Government that respite services will be cut. It will not happen as far as I am concerned,” he said.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the people planning to march have not imagined the cuts.

He listed centres in Limerick and on the Navan Road in Dublin that have been closed, while one in Galway is under threat.

“The people who are on the streets today, I think it’s probably fair to say that they felt that the days of having to protest, the days of having to walk on the streets in order to bring attention to the needs that they have, and the difficulties that they have in providing care for members of their family who suffer disabilities, were over.”

He asked Mr Cowen to confirm to parents of children with disabilities that they will not lose respite care, and give an assurance that there will be no cutbacks.

The Taoiseach said he has asked that the most vulnerable people are protected.

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