McCarthy calls for free elederly health care

“I was delighted to read Iris Robinson’s stout defence of the Assembly in the News Letter on Thursday. It is worth noting from the outset the DUP’s attitude towards the Assembly has shifted from attack to defence.”

“Like her Ministerial husband, who has just launched his 10-year plan for transport in Northern Ireland, it appears that the Robinsons now seem to expect the Assembly to be around for a long, long time.”

“However, I fear that in her recent article, Mrs Robinson picked the wrong horse to back. Her cause? An inadequate explanation of why the Assembly parties – with the exception of Alliance – voted against my amendments to last week’s Health and Personal Social Services Bill.”

“These amendments would have led to Northern Ireland’s oldest and most vulnerable citizens receiving free personal care at the earliest available opportunity. Unfortunately, the five Alliance votes for these important amendments were the only ones. The 53 against came from the Executive and smaller parties.”

“All this despite the fact that in February 2001, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds sponsored a joint debate with myself calling for free personal care for older people. Our motions were carried unanimously – making last week’s vote the single biggest Assembly U-turn in its short history.”

“Alliance’s opponents say there is no money to pay for free personal care, which includes such caring duties as helping senior citizens dress, have a bath or make the fire in winter. But it now seems obvious that these people did not read Clause 4, which stated that the new provisions could be brought in when the necessary funds were identified by the Department of Health and Personal Social Services.”

“Clause 4 states that free nursing care would “come into operation on such day or days as the Department may by order appoint”. My amendment for free personal care would have allowed the Department to decide when free personal care could also be implemented.”

“So that’s a red herring! Of course, if we took our £1million per day underspend, we could pay for free personal care 14 times over – with enough left over to tackle the railways. I look forward to a report which was due at the end of last month which will examine the costs involved, but by then it may be too late for some to benefit. I wonder why report was not available before the Bill was introduced?”

“As chair of the Assembly’s cross-party Committee on Ageing and Older People, appropriate care has always been my priority. Older people need their cause championed, and I will continue to represent them consistently, rather than when it is politically expedient.”

“I find it slightly strange that Mrs Robinson said the health committee was “extremely saddened if not angered at the late introduction” of the latest Bill, when she is prepared to put free personal care on the long finger. Even more strangely, she blames the Executive – of which the DUP is a part! Perhaps the embarrassment felt by all Executive parties is there because this U-turn has now been highlighted.”

“Older people form a major demographic section in both my own constituency of Strangford and in Northern Ireland as a whole. I for one am not prepared to see pensioners wait for one minute longer than necessary for the care they so deserve. They have given us their all over the years, they have paid their taxes and they stuck with Northern Ireland throughout the darkest days of the Troubles.”

“The least they could expect is that when a local administration is set up, they would be remembered, be looked after properly and treated as people rather than just another item on the Assembly’s ‘To do’ list.”

“On July 1, the Scottish Parliament introduced free personal care for the elderly and gave us a good example of what devolution is capable of.”

“Currently, older people in Northern Ireland will not be even in receipt of free nursing care until October. That makes our senior citizens second class citizens. Our Assembly has the power to change that.”

“Enough excuses. Let’s give our eldest citizens the respect, dignity and care they deserve. Quite simply, we cannot afford to wait – and neither can they.”


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