SHAUN CONNOLLY: Marie Fleming controversy: Government needs to reconnect with the people

The disconnect between the elected and their electors has been on display to an alarming degree.

As Enda Kenny’s state of denial and delusion over the medical card cull his Cabinet is presiding over reached new depths, the Taoiseach again pretended nothing of the sort was happening despite the seemingly endless cases of despair from families already reeling under the pressure of severe illness being thrown into further anxiety by the heartless and incompetent actions of his health department.

Every time Mr Kenny opens his mouth when confronted with the medical crisis he digs a deeper hole for himself.

Take, for instance, his leader’s questions response to the grim case of assisted suicide campaigner Marie Fleming being asked by the HSE to effectively prove she is still dying in order to retain health care in a state that also refuses to let her, as she would see it, die with dignity at a time and place of her own choosing.

“A person does not become unterminally ill once this is verified. There are significant numbers of people who are terminally ill. That position does not reverse itself. I accept that, in the process of centralising the processing of all medical cards in the country, there has to be a lesson learned in this case,” Mr Kenny told the Dáil.

And while it is reassuring, though still bizarre, that he feels the need to state he accepts that a person cannot become, as he strangely puts it, “unterminally ill”, when have lessons ever been learned by this Government, or indeed, in this country generally?

How can the Taoiseach even begin to learn the lesson of the growing medical card crisis when he refuses to acknowledge it is even happening at all?

It was a similar “Nothing to do with me buddy, I’m just the Taoiseach” attitude to another ignored crisis, that of homelessness.

When confronted with the fact that the number of people left to sleep rough on the cold, hard streets of Dublin has doubled over the past year, Mr Kenny launched into a lame little anecdote about how he had even taken the time to speak to a homeless person in recent weeks — and then expected to be congratulated for it, as he insisted none of his predecessors would have done the same.

And while chit-chats with a man thrown out by his wife about where he hides his stuff during the daytime might be all well and good, it would be a lot more helpful if the Taoiseach gave the issue the priority Britain’s last Labour government did when it created the post of a co-ordinating homelessness czar and put in place a coherent policy involving state agencies, charities and the police which dealt with the situation effectively.

Homelessness does not just hit those on the streets, but also engulfs the families stuck in B&Bs and other emergency shelter options as well.

Being so pleased with himself for actually speaking to a homeless person is just not good enough from a Taoiseach who has the power to actually end this on-going misery.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald deserves credit for bringing-up the plight of rough sleepers in the Dáil, but it is a shame her boss, Gerry Adams, exhibited a similar disconnect to the Taoiseach regarding health care.

“Clearly, this is the worst small country in the world in which to be sick,” Adams told TDs.

Clearly, this would be why the SF leader jets off to the United States for his own medical treatment then?

The scandal of state-funded hospitals using charity funds to top up the already lavish pay of top staff is another case in point.

The Government has been sitting on this incendiary information for months, yet the public was only let in on the outrageous practices at a time which suited ministers in their battle with the medical establishment over dangerous cutbacks to front line care.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin was particularly slippery when challenged as to how he could condemn the hospitals concerned when his department made such a shoddy example by waving through numerous breaches of the so-called public sector pay cap for various Government cronies.

Asked what action he would take against the top-up hospitals, Mr Howlin haughtily insisted that was “a matter for the HSE”.

This would be the same HSE that Mr Howlin and his Labour and Fine Gael colleagues routinely accused the Fianna Fáil government of hiding behind whenever they were in hot water over health mismanagement.

But surely lefty head of state Michael D Higgins can show some solidarity with the people in our time of woe?

Sadly not, because the very curious, and very public row, over who in his staff has, or does not have, access to the President has shed a very unflattering light on the sprawling nature of the number of flunkies his office is stuffed with.

Taking on two more advisers than his boom time president predecessor, thus pushing staff numbers for a ceremonial post to the mid-twenties is hardly the actions of the old socialist who feels the nation’s pain at the hands of capitalist extravagance that we were promised last election day.

And it would seem his Labour colleagues have also forgotten their roots as they gather in Kerry for a conference long delayed due to the widespread despair with Eamon Gilmore’s leadership.

Buoyed by a poll that puts them on the dizzy heights of 12% (which, like the one that had them on 6%, means that within the margin of error they are really on 9%), Mr Gilmore is suddenly talking about marginal tax cuts for the “squeezed middle”.

While his handlers may belive this will mark a fresh start, it merely highlights the bubble they reside in as, after the financial hammering meted out by this Government, anything short of a full pay back will be met with derision.

If there is any spare cash, Labour would be better advised to use it to roll back the shameful cuts to carers, the disabled and the young unemployed they have presided over.

A reconnection with the real lives of people being crushed under the recession would go a lot further than a timid and transparently opportunist con-trick tax cut.


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