There are 1,640 carers in Waterford city. There are 2,491 carers in the county. Night and day, week after week, month after month, these adults remain committed to an extraordinary, ceaseless task, performing miracles in so doing.

Ask a priest about carers and he’ll tell you that such men and women are examples of the living Gospel.

Yet we do not need to open dusty manuscripts, walk among cloistered concrete or take a night course in Maynooth to learn of the saints.

For these saints, the carers of Waterford, live and breathe among us, not that they
seek beatification for their daily undertaking. For the service they provide is made possible by that most unbreakable and unequalled of human emotions: unconditional love.

At Monday night’s meeting of Waterford City Council, Nuncie Murphy of the Waterford Carers Association, accompanied by two family carers, briefed Councillors about the National Carers Strategy.

What followed was, without doubt, the most emotional presentation I’ve been a first-hand witness to at City Hall. What all three said added new meaning to the phrase ‘human interest’.

Under ‘Towards 2016′ (the National Pay Agreement) the National Carers Strategy would represent the single biggest policy development in the history of the State. There’s just one problem: it’s not been implemented yet.

A job requirement detailing the daily task was read aloud by one of the carers who spoke during the meeting. And though this was a public gathering, I’m not going to name either carer here out of sensitivity to their individual situations.

“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, no pay, serious health implications and no social life” was the bleak picture painted by the male carer. What about the (means-tested) Carer’s Allowance, some would surely cry?

“It’s only a subsistence, but the carer is expected to work 24 hours a day for that,” he explained. “And that represents a great inequity in the system.” And who can argue with that?

By the way, only 660 carers in the city qualify for that allowance under its current parameters, while 55 receive the Carer’s Benefit. Therefore, almost 1,000 of our city’s carers are deemed too wealthy to even receive basic State support. What a joke.

The carer continued: “It’s not pensionable, which means many carers suffer a life of deprivation. On top of that, you’re not able to meet friends and there are many carers keeping a career on hold.

“Then of course, there are the many carers who are left homeless when the person they care for dies. Family members then appear on the scene, sell the home, which leaves
the carer with nowhere to live…there’s a job here that has to be recognised [by the State].”

The Carers Association is not seeking the sun, moon and stars. Nor is it seeking slaps on the back for a job well done. As Hillary Quinlan said on Monday, “you’re pushing an open door with us” in that respect.

Nuncie Murphy and her colleagues are seeking a greater shouldering of the responsibility of care by the State, hardly too much to ask, I’m sure you’ll agree.

That they’re having to lobby on this issue, bearing in mind the near 38,000 potential hospital/nursing home hours their work saves the State weekly in Waterford alone, is an utter scandal.

That Waterford City Council will contact every local authority in the country to highlight the immense burden of care that spouses, daughters, sons and grandchildren face every day is to be commended.

“We’d love to march on the Dáil but unfortunately carers don’t have the time to do it,” said Nuncie Murphy, highlighting one problem the Association has in transmitting its message. “We’d love to be out there.”

Let’s hope that a ball set rolling at City Hall on Monday night will roll all the way into Brian Cowen’s office.