Government viability - It’s time to stand up or move on

PUT against the backdrop of last week’s unrelenting bad news, today’s stories of curtailed or closed health services look little more than transient irritations.

However, these proposed closures have the capacity to change lives for the worse. Even so, last week’s series of reality checks underlined how very dangerous our situation has become. It is an unwelcome but sobering indication of how critical a point we have reached when the closure of emergency departments at up to 12 acute hospitals can be considered a second-level difficulty.

Though none of last week’s warnings were new, the depth of crisis revealed demands a response far beyond anything our Government seems capable of generating.

The International Monetary Fund pointed out we will pay more than any other developed economy to rescue our banking system. The IMF, showing gumption absent in our domestic affairs, stuck to its guns when its analysis was dismissed by Taoiseach Brian Cowen. What a pity an increasingly discredited Mr Cowen did not show the same indignation when faced with a revolt over budget measures designed to at least slow the Dáil gravy train.

If that was not bad enough Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, offered an analysis that condemns Ireland to the basket-case category we thought we had left forever.

If all that was not dispiriting enough discarded junior minister John McGuinness said what a significant segment of the population concluded quite some time ago.

He pointed out that Mr Cowen has not shown leadership and that Enterprise and Trade Minister Mary Coughlan is out of her depth. It is another sad indication of the lethal grip tribal politics still exerts over our public life that Mr McGuinness was vilified for making those perfectly rational observations.

As well as today’s story about A&E units being closed, we report that Government may face court actions because it has not provided out-of-hours social services for children in jeopardy.

We also report that drug-abusing teenagers are even more vulnerable because the HSE did not pass on almost e1m to a treatment centre dealing with children as young as 12. At least e800,000 was allocated to the HSE and rubber-stamped by the Department of Health for the treatment of under-18s in north inner city Dublin. However, the money was not used to fill 11 agreed staff positions and now lives are in jeopardy because of staff shortages.

Each of these health stories — and so many, many more like them — is an indicator of a society staggering towards the abyss. When taken in conjunction with last week’s dismal events they add up to something generating a dangerous level of anger and disconnection. It may even be that this anger will not be satisfied by voting against the status quo in June’s elections.

By denying the obvious, by continually putting party before country, Mr Cowen and his senior colleagues are fanning that anger. They must know that and they must see that it’s time to stand up or move on.

Is it too much to hope that this might be the week that the cat-and-mouse nonsense ends? That we won’t have any more capitulations to either backbenchers or sectional interests? That the right decisions are made regardless of the consequences for Fianna Fáil?

The great irony is, and this cannot be lost on Fianna Fáil, that the only small hope they have of avoiding electoral meltdown is by making the hard calls.


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