Tánaiste Joan Burton has rejected Opposition calls to abandon a review of the free travel pass initiative.
The Social Protection Minister insisted the scheme was safe, despite warnings from Fianna Fáil that the Government has targeted it for cuts.
Tabling a motion on the issue in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea insisted the free travel initiative was a vital lifeline for those over 65.
Mr O’Dea said that Age Action found that 70% of pass holders use it to attend medical appointments, visit relatives, and do shopping.
“Without it many fear they would become more isolated from their community and network of friends and family.
“The free travel pass is an essential support for older people. It provides them with access to bus, rail and LUAS services to allow them go about their everyday business and live independently.
“Research carried out by Age Action reveals the majority of older people use their pass at least once a week, with almost a third using it every day.
“Without it many fear they would become more isolated from their community and network of friends and family,” said Mr O’Dea.
“Older people have already suffered a raft of cuts. Over the past three years Minister Burton has abolished the telephone allowance, slashed the Household Benefits Package and cut the fuel allowance by six weeks. Any changes to the free travel pass cannot be tolerated.
“It’s understood the review is looking at a number of options, but given the recent medical card fiasco, it has become evident that the Government uses these reviews as a means of restricting entitlements,” the Fianna Fáil social protection spokesperson said.
The Government accused the Opposition of deliberately trying to scare pensioners.
Ms Burton said the review was needed because the scheme, which covers over 20% of the population, is nearly 50 years old.
“This review is about ensuring the viability and sustainability of the free travel scheme into the future, not just this year or next year.
“Both I and the Minister for Transport have made it clear that the free travel pass is safe, has been protected in recent budgets and will continue to be protected,” the Tánaiste told the Dáil.
Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said: “Fianna Fáil seems determined to whip up fear over this issue.”
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