Pensioner power at the gates of the Dail
THE banners said it all. "We're not too old to fight back," one said.
“Rob the pensioners to bail out the bankers. Shame, shame, shame.”
Pensioners protesting against the changes to the medical card scheme had been due to converge in front of Leinster House at 12.30pm today.
But such was the scale of fury and disgust that swarms of banner-wielding senior citizens pitched up to the gates a full two hours early.
And lest the Government believed they might have been appeased by the last-minute changes to the income threshold, they were sorely mistaken.
If anything, the feelings of betrayal and anguish had intensified overnight, with busloads of OAPs travelling from all over to make their presence felt.
Mayo woman Margaret Bracken had made the long journey from Foxford this morning, armed with a banner.
The 74-year-old explained: “My husband died of a heart attack last year so I'm here for him. I paid into the VHI for 23 years and I stopped when I got the medical card. Now I can't get back in to the VHI.
“I never was on a march in my life but this has just tipped the iceberg. It's just diabolical. The more Brian Cowen babbles on, the worse he gets. We've all worked through the hard times. Anything we got, we earned. I can't blame people now for saying they can't sleep at night.”
Outside the gates of Leinster House, Limerick man Cornelius Cagney (66) had been parading his banner since early today.
It read: “Politicians are paid to go to work. See their expenses on the web. Workers pay to go to work”! Pensioners are penalised for saving and living.”
He added: “They took the widow's pension off me when I qualified for the old age pension. I won't get the medical card now because I've a private pension. I'm penalised for saving. My father was 97 when he died and he always said to me, never trust the banks. They'll give you an umbrella when it's sunny and take it off you when it's raining.”
It was a long journey from Limerick for Billy Grehan (71) and Martin Finnan (70).
A furious Martin explained: “They gave me the medical card when I turned 70 this year and now they're taking it off me again. I didn't even get to use it!
As the crowds swelled on Kildare St, Independent TD Finian McGrath was seen pressing the flesh, with his short appearance earning him a round of applause from the gathering.
Kevin Stapleton (86) said that he had travelled up from Kilkee in Clare on behalf of himself and his wife Philomena (79).
Kevin explained: “I worked in England for many years. I had no choice but to get the boat over because there were no jobs in this country.
“I sent money home every week. And now they want to take the medical cards off us. That's no way to treat the people who kept this country going.”
He added: “We do qualify for a medical card. If I had €700 a week I'd be out in the Bahamas.”
By midday, the crowds had swelled across the streets, as pensioners wielding banners began their protest in earnest.
One banner stood out from the crowd, reading: “You haven't got what it takes but we'll take what you've got.”
Kilkenny man John Malone (75) was certainly not holding back, saying: “Hitler killed people but Brian Cowen is doing it slowly. I don't care what they do I'm filling out no more forms of any description.”
At 75, Kathleen Byrne from the Navan Road was out to show the Government that she's not too old to fight back.
She revealed: “I still have the medical card. I have very high blood pressure and I take eight tablets a day.
“When we heard about this, we kicked up murder. I'm very annoyed for all the elderly and there's a lot older than me here.”