‘Divide and conquer’ strategy ill-advised

For a Government that employs more than its fair share of highly paid spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition has a deplorable track record of getting things wrong.

In the latest example of an administration seen as out of touch with the realities of life among some of the most vulnerable people in Irish society, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stands accused by Joanne O’Riordan, the internationally known disability campaigner, of reneging on a personal promise that disability funding would not be cut under his rule.

One of only seven people in the world with a condition called Tetra-amelia syndrome, she was born with no limbs. Yet despite the extreme severity of her disability, the courageous Cork teenager has addressed the UN and won many awards.

Her comments, carried in this newspaper yesterday, could not be more damning of the sudden decision by the Government to withdraw the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant from around 5,000 people with disabilities. In a scathing reference to the Taoiseach’s pledge, she said: “Enda Kenny looked me in the eye before the general election and promised me one thing and then, once again, did another.”

Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister who has responsibility for disability issues, claims the Government had “agonised” over its decision to scrap the schemes but was left with no choice and could not continue to operate outside the law — a reference to Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly’s ruling that the existing scheme was in breach of the Equal Status Act.

It beggars belief that after “agonising” for two years, officialdom failed to devise a plan B to replace the system now being scrapped. According to the Taoiseach, the Government has no choice but to close the grants to new applicants.

Meanwhile, thousands of disabled people and their families, dismayed by what they perceive as further damaging cuts, will be living in dread for the next four months, fearful of the kind of solution that a cobbled-together Oireachtas committee is likely to produce. It is absolutely imperative that whatever the outcome, it must be based on genuine grounds of compassion and caring rather than in a convenient solution driven by a culture of cost-cutting.

Ominous signs of a government in discord are now emerging amid growing tensions between Fine Gael and Labour over the perennial call that third-level grants for the sons and daughters of farmers and businessmen be means tested. With backbenchers warning of trouble within the Coalition, Labour wants assets worth €750,000 to be included in the means test. During the property boom, suburban houses and small farms were commanding that kind of money and more.

An economic crisis is no time for selling off fields or stripping company assets. Equity is a laudable objective but should not be gained at the cost of the family farm or put the self-employed in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, with a new Croke Park deal in a somewhat precarious balance, direct divisions are emerging between frontline unions as a result of the Government’s decision to exempt firefighters from pay cuts because of earlier savings and substantive restructuring. Nurses and gardaí will claim the same could be said of them. The difference is that firefighters in Siptu remained inside the talks whereas nurses and gardaí walked out.

A Government ‘divide and conquer’ strategy based on reward and punishment is ill-advised and could backfire.


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