Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Carers are calling for a reversal to the respite grant cut announced in last week's budget.
Last year's census showed there were 3,607 carers in Westmeath and, for this group, last week's budget was "the straw that broke the camel's back," according to a spokesperson for their representative group.
Claire Duffy of the Carers Association said its Midlands offices, in Mullingar and Tullamore, have been inundated with calls since it emerged that the budget would cut the respite care grant by €325.
"It's hard to explain what the reaction from carers has been like. There is so much hurt, so much anger and so much disappointment given the work that these carers to do and the money that they are saving the State," said Ms Duffy.
"The health system is completely dependent on the provision of family care in the home and for this care to be targeted in this way makes no sense.
"We were receiving numerous calls from carers who were struggling to cope before the budget was announced and to have further cuts introduced is the straw that broke the camel's back."
According to the Carers Association there are 187,112 Carers nationally, 77,000 (or 41%) of whom receive the respite care grant, which is to be reduced from €1,700 to €1,375. Exact figures for carers in receipt of the grant in Westmeath were not available at the time of going to press but it's estimated that some 1,400 carers in the county could be directly affected by the budget cut.
The respite care grant is often used not only to pay for respite services, but also to fund day-to-day expenses such as petrol, diesel or medical aids.
Other budget cuts affecting carers include reduced phone and electricity allowances under the household benefit package, and the increase in the prescription charge from 50 cent to €1.50.
Carers protested against the budget cuts at Leinster House last week and again on Tuesday. Ms Duffy said the campaign would continue and she was confident that enough pressure would be put on the Government to force a reversal of the cut to the respite care grant.