Republican News · Thursday 30 Novemeber 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Fine Gael's health responsibilities

``Health is likely to be the single biggest issue in the general election''. This was the stunning analysis of John Bruton as he launched the latest in a series of Fine Gael policy documents with Fine Gael health spokesperson Gay Mitchell.

Having put last week's leadership challenge behind him, Bruton was back on the now familiar treadmill of `Fine Gael in opposition so we have rediscovered our social justice agenda'.

This week Fine Gael have been outraged about the 26-Counties' inequitable health care service. For example, the new policy document, titled Restoring Trust - A Health Plan for the Nation, tells us that ``In today's Ireland, if you can pay you will live longer and in less pain, while those on low incomes must suffer on. This is unjust, unacceptable, and untenable and runs counter to the principles of Fine Gael''.

Elsewhere we are told that ``Resources will be provided on the basis of need. We will also ensure that health services are provided in a more egalitarian way''. It makes great reading and there is much merit in the Fine Gael proposals.

There are, however, three problems with the Fine Gael plan. The first is on the issue of waiting lists. Restoring Trust tells what a scandal this is and that our waiting lists are the longest in Europe. Along the way they seem to have forgotten the Tallaght strategy between 1987 and 1989, where Fine Gael supported a minority Fianna Fáil government on the proviso that they implemented harsh austerity measures that involved significant cuts in health spending.

During this time, 20% of 26-County hospital beds were taken out of the health care system never to return. Interestingly, the Fine Gael document doesn't labour long on this point.

This brings us on to the second point. When Fine Gael actually got into government in the 1990s, the noble ideals in this document were strangely absent from actual policies in Government.

The third and perhaps most fatal flaw in the Fine Gael health plan is that though they recognize the two-tier nature of the Irish health system, they do not recognise the root cause of it is a private sector system being subsidised by the public one.

It seems that however well meaning the sentiments in this policy document, they are built entirely on sand and though there is much hype about inequity, they fail to recognise the root causes of inequity in the first place.

If you want to read the document it can be found at Also worth a look, just for the fun of it, is John Bruton's daily internet message.

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