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Budget must prioritise health service, says Mary Lou McDonald

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called on the Government to use the forthcoming Budget to pump resources into Ireland’s health service.

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Ms McDonald, speaking ahead of her party’s think-in in Dublin city centre, said Sinn Féin would increase employer PRSI contributions by four percentage points over a number of Budgets as a way of paying for its commitment to restore the pension age to 65.

She added that the increase would not apply to self-employed people.

Ms McDonald said giving people the choice of retiring at 65 with a pension is the mark of a “progressive and civilised society”.

She added that it is now time for the Government to publish the report of the Pensions Commission, which was charged with investigating possible reforms.

‘A lot of cracks’

Ms McDonald said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed faults in the Irish health service.

“I think this is all about capacity and resources in the system,” she said.

“Everybody accepts that, because of the pandemic, a lot of the cracks were exposed.”

She said the Government’s target of increasing staff in the health service has not been reached.

“The Budget has to be the occasion at which the resources need to be pumped into the system,” she said.

Ms McDonald also said the health service needs to “wean” itself off reliance on the private sector.

She said measures such as the National Treatment Purchase Fund are not the only way of getting care and treatment for patients stuck on waiting lists.

“The only way we can have a strong and sustainable health service is to invest in public medicine,” she said.

Housing crisis

Ms McDonald also linked Ireland’s housing crisis and rising rents to the challenges facing the health service, saying that a successful recruitment drive for doctors, nurses and consultants requires a solution to the country’s housing problems.

“If you return from Australia or Canada, the thing that is raised with me most often is where you actually live,” she said.

“If you bring people home, they actually have to have a home.”

In recent weeks, Ms McDonald’s party has been highly critical of the Government over the handling of the Katherine Zappone controversy.

The issue here is around the entire culture of Irish politics now for a century, exemplified by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

On Monday, senior Fine Gael ministers admitted that the party did not have a good summer and had been undermined by the row surrounding Ms Zappone’s appointment to a UN special envoy role.

Sinn Féin is bringing a motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to the Dáil this week.

“The issue here is around the entire culture of Irish politics now for a century, exemplified by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” Ms McDonald said.

“This is a mess of their making.”

“Are we prepared to look the other way and tolerate crony politics? The answer is no.”

Ms McDonald declined on Tuesday morning, in an interview with RTÉ radio, to rule out going into Government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil after the next election.

Eoin O Broin has been highly critical of the Government’s housing policies (Niall Carson/PA)

Instead, she called on voters to give her party the chance to form a government without the two incumbent parties.

“For me, the very best outcome is a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.”

She said she could promise that any government which involves Sinn Féin will have a “very different agenda”.

Ms McDonald also indicated it is highly unlikely that her party will ever be able to enter government with Fine Gael.

“If you look at us and Fine Gael, for example, the difference in approaches and policy priorities are very, very wide. You would understand that on the issue of looking after working families or cracking the housing crises, we’re in very different places.”

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