It is beyond belief that the Government should seek to make savings on the backs of those aged over 70 years of age. The distress and anger caused by this proposal is palpable and resulted in many thousands of pensioners taking to the streets this afternoon to express their outrage at the Government. They came from all parts of the country to give a clear message, saying to the Government: "Hands off our health care. Hands off our medical cards."
Not since the tax marches of the 1980s has there been such a display of public anger. In recent days several Government representatives, including the Taoiseach, have tried to make out that their mistake was in not communicating their message properly. This is nonsense because their message was the problem. It was and remains the case that the Government chose to abolish the legal right of everybody over 70 years of age to free medical care. There is no way of dressing this up in order to make it look any different.
Not only did the Government do that but it then decided to cut in half the income limits that apply to the over 70s. It reduced the income limits for a couple from €596 to €298 per week. This savage cut was not mentioned on budget day. I really want to know who gave the instruction to the Health Service Executive to do that. Perhaps the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has just arrived in the Chamber, will clarify that for us. There was no mention of the halving of income limits on budget day. That only became apparent the following day.
Did the Minister approve that savage cut in income limits and give that instruction to the HSE? I cannot see that organisation doing that off its own bat. The real problem, the killer blow in many ways, was cutting the income limits in half. I would like the Minister to clarify for the House tonight whether she gave that instruction.
On two occasions yesterday the Taoiseach misled us by claiming that 70% of people would have qualified for medical cards under the budget changes. This is simply not true.