More than 2,000 people in Galway with limited means are facing a new bill this month, following the ending of a waiver on their refuse collection charges.
They will have to pay as much as €170 extra this year, according to Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish.
They are former users of Galway City Council’s domestic refuse collection service, which ended two years ago, when it was taken over by Barna Waste.
Part of the agreement was that up to 2,400 people of limited means would continue to enjoy a waiver of charges for two years. That came to an end at the start of this year.
Deputy Grealish highlighted the extra charge as one of several — adding up to about €1,000 — that older people in Galway have had to endure over the past five years.
Speaking at an election hustings in the Westwood Hotel, organised by Age Action and Active Retirement Ireland, Deputy Grealish said that older people’s concerns tended to be ignored by government and should be addressed in the next programme for government.
“They must also be given a voice in the Cabinet,” he said. “To achieve this, I believe the role of the Minister for Children should be expanded, so that we have a Minister for Children and Older people
“There is currently a Junior Minister, whose responsibilities include older people. But this way, the issues that most affect them will be heard at Cabinet level where the real decisions are made.”
Deputy Grealish said that rather than being nurtured and looked after in their autumn years, older people had been subjected to a whole series of cuts over the past five years.
“Many people mistakenly believe that older people have been kept safe from the austerity measures because the maximum state pension was not reduced.
“But we carried out an exercise in our office which shows that an average older couple in Galway have to pay out about €1,000 more today as a result of these cutbacks.
“They’ve had the phone allowance scrapped, the free electricity reduced, the number of weeks on the Free Fuel Allowance cut, and prescription charges have gone from 50 cent to €2.50.
“On top of that you’ve got the property tax and water charges — and here in Galway, the waiver scheme for refuse collection has come to an end as of last month.
“Add it all up — and I’m sure there’s more — and you have the best part of €1,000 that older people have to fork out now compared with five years ago.”
Deputy Grealish pointed out that the vast majority of these people were on a fixed income and do not have the capacity to increase their earnings — about 80% of people aged over 65 in Ireland today relied on the state pension as their main source of income.
“It has been proven that our loved ones, when they are living at home, live longer and happier lives. We have to invest more in home care, primary care centres and the like, that can help them maintain their independence and their health.”
The outgoing Independent TD added that other major concerns for older people were security in their homes, which required more Gardaí, and difficulties of waiting lists and overcrowding at UHG, where the current Emergency Department was ‘nothing short of a disgrace’.