Protest against Budget 2009

Last week, Ireland’s Government presented its budget for 2009 with the theme, “solidarity and patriotic action in most difficult and uncertain times.” The prevailing response to the the Fianna Fail party, in particular its Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, was that they chose the right tune but played too many notes off-key. To put it in terms from the US election: Lenihan used a hatchet rather than a scalpel.

The proposal that generated the loudest outcry was the introduction of means-testing for medical cards for those over 70 years old. For the past several years, persons over 70 received a card that entitled them to free health care. With budget deficits looming, the Government chose to limit spending on health care for the growing number of Irish people living a longer time. The proposal was a means-test which would eliminate free care for those able to pay their own way, thereby introducing a tiered system of benefits.

The specific extent of means testing was more than a small step away from universal health care — according to the Irish Independent, more than 50% seniors would not qualify for full coverage. The response was immediate outrage. A protest was called for this past Wednesday, to bring that outrage to the door of the Dail on Kildare Street, just a few blocks from our home.

I attended the protest. These elders know how to protest: an impressive mass of people (from all ages and walks of life)…
…fiery speeches from all parts of the political spectrum…
…and creative banners and picket signs.
The assembly was orderly but forceful. What I found most remarkable was the protesters’ common expectation that the demonstration would have a profound effect. One group discussed how the legislators’ response would “make or break their careers.” I have never been to a protest that exhibited such confidence — including other protests in Dublin.

The Government has already changed the details of the proposal, but the controversy continues hotting up. Disputes within the ruling coalition and the Fianna Fail party itself are more intense than any time since we moved to Dublin. The next few weeks will bring some political upheaval to Ireland after a quiet summer.

For more photos and descriptions of the event, take a look at my set of photos on Flickr.

1 Comment to “Protest against Budget 2009”

  1. Jaime said...
    24 October 2008

    Wow Will – that’s an eye-opening first person account. Very cool.