Prior to the Taoiseach’s welcome to the Real Capital from jostling protestors — whose vigour was second only to that of the shamozzle of TDs elbowing their way into shot at the various PR opportunities across the city — the Labour Party held its health manifesto launch at the River Lee Hotel.
Flanked by junior health minister Kathleen Lynch and Cork South Central TD Ciarán Lynch, Joan Burton outlined the Labour vision to a gathered press, who had their eyes on the clock to make sure they had good time to make the ceremonial turning of the sod at Cork’s long-awaited event centre.
“There are no instant solutions to many of the challenges we face. And I will not make reckless promises which are doomed to disappoint,” Ms Burton solemnly vowed.
A sample of some of these non-reckless promises? Pledges that leapt off the manifesto pages included free GP care in the lifetime of the government; a reduction in prescription charges; and a lowering of the drug payment scheme threshold. Sound familiar?
Coalition partners Fine Gael may have dropped proposals to extend free GP care to all, but Labour say it can be done.
“Over the lifetime of the next government, free GP care will be phased in for the entire population, starting with those under the age of 18 and those aged 65 and over and progressing to universal access by 2021,” Labour’s latest policy reads.
Free GP care to all within 10 years of Labour first taking office in 2011 may seem ambitious, but it is positively humble compared to what the party promised in the run-up to the last election.
“Labour will introduce a system of universal primary care insurance, which will give everyone entitlement to GP care without paying fees. This is a quick, affordable reform in which the Irish State will guarantee access to care,” its 2010 health manifesto said, outlining how this would be “phased in over four years”.
When proposed in 2009, Jan O’Sullivan, then Labour health spokeswoman, said the 50c prescription charge was a burden on the less well-off and “will simply mean that those on the lowest incomes will be singled out and forced to pay what amounts to yet another stealth tax”.
A year later, the party went further. “Medical card holders qualified for free drugs until this government introduced a 50c per item prescription charge in 2010. Labour in government will remove this charge,” its heath manifesto read.
However, Labour in government did not scrap this “burden” on the less well-off — in fact it increased it five times over to €2.50 per item.
Now? The party is promising to reduce charges to €1.50 — still three times higher than the original “stealth tax” it pledged to scrap.
So how does Labour account for promising again what it said it would do before, and why should we believe it this time?
“We entered into government at a time of extraordinary crisis,” Ms Burton said yesterday, before pledging to reduce the drug payment scheme threshold to €100. She neglected to mention that, in 2010, Labour said it would reduce it from €120 a month to a point when it would eventually be covered under universal health insurance but, in the intervening years, its Government actually raised the threshold to €144 a month.
“We know we didn’t fulfill everything that we said we would,” Ms Lynch interjected. “But then again, we were a small part of a coalition government but we can tell you now, that what we did do in terms of Fair Deal, in terms of capital expenditure, in terms of medical cards, in terms of discretionary medical cards, introducing that sort of first step in terms of how we would cover the entire population, with access to GPs, we have done a significant amount.”
A lot of promises made, targets set. Sure isn’t that what you do in an election?