TANAISTE Simon Coveney has defended Fine Gael’s healthcare record, saying for its first few years in government, it had “no money to spend” on the overcrowding crisis.
In the last year, the number of people waiting on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has soared to all time highs, with 91 people being recorded as without a bed last week.
A demonstration is set to take place in protest at the chaos in Dooradoyle on February 1 at 1pm, from St John’s Hospital in the city.
But speaking to reporters outside Thomond Park this Sunday, Mr Coveney insisted the government is now able to make “realistic financial commitments” to “fix once and for all the accident and emergency pressure we are seeing in Limerick.”
A key plank of Fine Gael manifestos in 2007 and then 2011, which saw the party reduce Fianna Fail to just 20 TDs was a pledge to end “the scandal of patients on trolleys”.
Asked why government has not been able to do this, Mr Coveney said: “Fine Gael has been in government for the past nine years. For the first four or five years, we had literally no money to spend. When we came to government the country was bankrupt, the IMF was making a lot of the financial decisions in Ireland. We’d lost 356,000 jobs in Fianna Fail’s last three years.”
He said this meant his party’s focus was to rebuilt the economy in order to pay for the public services.
“We can now afford to make the dramatic investments needed in health to fix the problems. We’ve spent an extra €2.8bn on healthcare in the last three years,” he said, “This government is absolutely clear in terms of the challenges we face in healthcare.”
This Sunday, a new poll put Fianna Fail a huge 12 points clear of Fine Gael.
Asked about this, Mr Coveney said it will act as a “catalyst” for the party to work harder in the run up to polling day on Saturday, February 8.
“It’s going to motivate people to work harder to sell our message, to listen to people, to listen to voters. Opinions are volatile and we need to work hard,” he concluded.