Cuts in benefits hit home in County Longford

A Longford man has hit out at the Minister for Social Protection Eamon O'Cuív TD for reducing the welfare payments to blind people and their carers - who actually work for their benefit - and introduced a new scheme of disability benefit which will operate on a sliding scale of payment according to the degree of incapacity suffered by the recipient.

A Longford man has hit out at the Minister for Social Protection Eamon O'Cuív TD for reducing the welfare payments to blind people and their carers - who actually work for their benefit - and introduced a new scheme of disability benefit which will operate on a sliding scale of payment according to the degree of incapacity suffered by the recipient.

Local man James Heavey lost his sight completely in 2008. His wife Teresa became his carer and because of the latest cuts to the blind person's benefit and the carer's allowance, James and Teresa have lost approximately €20 each per week in their welfare payments.

"They should rename Dil Eireann Jurassic Park because there are only a bunch of dinosaurs there," said James who added that members of Dil Eireann were "completely out of touch with reality".

"Me and Teresa have lost at least €20 each per week in our welfare payments. We are losing about €160 per month or around €2,000 per year and that is fairly substantial. I have a medical card but I still have to pay 50c for each prescription and while it doesn't seem that much, it all adds up. My guide dog Zonta is on a special diet and her food is very expensive. A big bag of nuts for Zonta costs €67 per month and then there is the vets bills as well and the usual bills have to be paid, so these cuts are going to have an impact on my life and on Teresa's life."

James was born with cataract and was partially blind until 2008 when his sight left him altogether.

"Losing the sight altogether happened very suddenly in the end. I was playing with the grandkids one day and the next thing was everything started to disappear," explained James, who added that when he was medically examined the next morning he was told that the retina had detached from his eye and that his eyesight was gone completely.

"It completely changed my life," he said. "I couldn't feed myself because I had to learn to use a knife and fork again.

"You also lose your privacy when you become blind and you do lose a lot of independence at the start, but thank God through learning new skills and natural instinct I have regained a lot of my independence.

"I was taught to feel the ground underneath me and my hearing became more acute and then, of course I got Zonta, my guide dog. I would be lost without her. Me and Zonta go down the town. We go to the bank, to Stenson's and to the shopping centre and Zonta has her special drinking bowl in Tesco. In fact I tell her where to go and she just takes me there, she is incredible."

James also uses a cane and with the help that he receives from his family, as well as from Zonta, he feels that he is coping well with his disability.

"People assume that when you lose your sight, you lose your sense of humour but that is not the case with me," he said. "I am starting now to get my life back on track and to be honest with you these budget cuts have caused me unnecessary worry.

"However, I have a great family and the grandchildren are always around me and I love that. But to lose your sight is a very traumatic thing to happen and I have two little grandchildren whom I will never see and that's hard. My son's wedding is coming up soon and that will be a hard day because I won't be able to see him and his new wife."

James says his wife and carer Teresa, had been a rock of strength to him over the years and he said that it was she who was his inspiration through the tough times.

"Me and Teresa know each other for 40 years," he said. "This is hard on her too because she sees me struggling sometimes. When I'm up and moving around I can't think ahead; I have to stay in the moment because if I do think ahead I could fall. Only last week I fell down the stairs and I got an awful fright and so did Teresa."

James also took the opportunity to thank all those who have helped and supported him and Teresa and their children James, Teresa, Aine, Deirdre, Paula and Owen; their sons in law and daughter in law to be Esther and six grandchildren Tiernan, Eirn, Ciara, Caolan, Clara and Aoife.

"The little grandchildren are so good to me, " said James. "Funnily enough when I switch out the lights at night I'm not actually in the dark because I can see a very faint blue light.

"This is a medical condition called Charles Bonnett and is something that effects blind people. Some people see faces and what happens is when you lose your sight, your mind tries to compensate for that and it makes up its own images to compensate for the loss of sight."