Green party criticism over card fiasco backfires

A GREEN party attempt to criticise the Government for the medical card fiasco backfired last night when it admitted its own ministers bore some of the responsibility for the issue.

The parliamentary party — comprising the Green TDs and senators — issued a statement criticising the way the Government handled the issue.

“The party is critical of the way in which changes to the over-70s medical card system were planned and communicated,” Green health spokeswoman Senator Deirdre de Burca said.

Although ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan are technically members of the parliamentary party, statements from the latter are regarded as separate to the position of the Greens in Government.

But the statement backfired when the parliamentary party was forced to admit that, by criticising the way the changes were “planned and communicated”, it was essentially criticising Mr Gormley and Mr Ryan, too.

This is because, as members of the Government, the two ministers signed off on the decision to remove the over-70s automatic entitlement to medical cards.

Green senator Dan Boyle admitted: “There’s an implicit criticism [in the statement] that the Government hasn’t handled the issue well.”

Asked whether this meant the Greens were criticising their own ministers, he said: “The two ministers are part of the Government.”

But despite the criticism, the Green party collectively will support the Government decision to remove the automatic entitlement.

Mr Boyle said the party’s concerns were about the income limits involved, and “not universal eligibility”.

The Greens claim they are “working hard” to bring about “a rapid and satisfactory conclusion to this unfortunate situation”.

Mr Boyle, meanwhile, acknowledged the fiasco had damaged the Government but said the hurt to the Greens, if any, was as of yet unclear.

“Obviously it has caused damage to the Government. We’ll have to wait and see how it has affected each of the parties.”

Meanwhile, almost €70 million promised to the horse racing and greyhound industry next year should be diverted to pay for medical cards, a government backbencher claimed.

Budget 2009 contains funding of €69.7m to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon which accounts for more than a third of the total spend on sports next year.

Green party TD Paul Gogarty became the first member of the junior coalition party to call for the Government to completely scrap plans to introduce medical card means testing.

He wrote to the three ministers responsible for finance, sports and health, and said money from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund should be used to provide universal free health care to the over-70s.

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