No-show by minister for older people a poor reflection

EVER notice how history has a habit of repeating itself? If it does, then Minister for Older People Aine Brady may need to start watching her back.

In autumn 2008, the Fianna Fáil TD’s party colleague and predecessor appeared to go to ground over the over-70s medical card scandal.

When Máire Hoctor did finally surface for air she was unceremoniously heckled and hassled by hundreds of elderly protesters outside the Dáil. It was no surprise when she was replaced within weeks.

The individuals are different, the issues are not the same and current Minister for Older People Ms Brady has commented on Monday night’s Prime Time home care exposé.

But her decision not to take part in an RTÉ Frontline debate in the immediate aftermath of the programme does not bode well.

During the show, broadcaster Pat Kenny pointedly explained that while Health Minister Mary Harney and Ms Brady had been asked onto the show, both had declined.

Ms Brady, of course, did appear momentarily on Prime Time to explain that new legislation is being drawn up to protect older people.

A detailed press release was also issued on her behalf by the Department of Health press office before the programme aired detailing the statistics highlighting the number of people the HSE does help and planned new legislation — the guts of which she repeated in the Dáil.

But it is unclear when this legislation will become law. More importantly, it is unclear when Ms Brady will meet with elderly people — not politicians — to explain why the scandal highlighted by Prime Time was allowed to occur.

For Ms Brady’s critics the TV debate no-show seems more than a little like empty chairs and, despite the statements, empty promises.

All rather similar to the criticism Máire Hoctor faced two years ago, and to an extent, that which opposition TDs eyeing up Ms Brady’s junior minister position may soon face themselves.

Why is it, for example, that elderly safety and healthcare issues — elder abuse, Leas Cross, home care problems, poverty — often only become the subject of significant political debate on either side of Leinster House when they reach scandal proportions, or are exposed?

Why is a Government position seeking to ensure those who have built this state are safe and looked after in their later years only a junior minister post, a situation almost automatically leading to a view that it is a stepping stone to higher office?

Why is it that after an exposé like Prime Time’s on Monday night is revealed, a press release, a statement in the Dáil and a no-show on air by those with responsibility for the sector is deemed enough?

Ever notice how history has a habit of repeating itself?

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