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
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
www.finegael.com. Also worth a look, just for the fun of it, is
John Bruton's daily internet message.