By Luke Ming Flanagan
Ten days ago I posted about my families and many others experience at our ‘local’ A&E. Thank you for engaging. Over 3/4million ‘reached’. Around 1200 plus comments. Lots of them encouraging. Many disparaging and dismissive. Many abusive. Many looking for solutions.
ACCEPTING WE HAVE A PROBLEM
The first thing to be said is that no matter what the problem you must first realise and accept it exists if you wish to solve it. That was the main purpose of writing the piece in the first place. We have many problems but rather than concentrate on solving them the government is at full throttle spinning us a line. Even ‘straight talking’ Leo Varadkar tries to make a positive out of a deteriorating health service by telling us that “Trolley waiting times have deteriorated in recent months but are still better than in 2011”. It’s back to the original issue. We don’t expect enough. We have a government that mirrors that. It’s idea of success, no matter how pathetic, is to point back to the worst government in the history of the state as its yardstick.
As I said in relation to the comments on Facebook, many were looking for solutions. Some have asked this as if I had suggested we organise a manned space mission to Mars. There is in some cases a sense of resignation that nothing will ever be solved or dealt with. For this can you please look at what I was talking about. I was talking about basic things which happen in other countries of comparable wealth. In those countries you can make a phone call without being tethered to a line like Alexander Graham Bell was. You can drink the water without the fear of killing yourself. You can even use their health services. Hardly what you’d call unsolvable puzzles.
To take the issue of ‘mobile’ phone coverage. The attraction in the technology is that it is mobile. That’s what we pay for at any rate. That’s what mobile phone companies are making fortunes from. But here’s the catch. It’s not mobile. It’s pot luck. In criticising the dire phone coverage, as with other issues, I was obviously not only talking about problems that it personally causes me. I was merely using it as an example of what others in the area have to deal with. Is the solution impossible to find? We know the solution. The telecommunication companies who make a fortune from us must invest in infrastructure. It makes sense in every way. If you can’t make a call then the company are not going to make money either. If it does require government intervention then so be it. They have money to spend up to €80 million on a post code project that is not even wanted. Why not spend it on this instead? The future of communications is mobile. Business depends on it. Society depends on it. To those who say get a landline. I say get a little bit more ambitious than aspiring to live in the last century.
So in relation to our Health service, is it the case that it is underfunded or are we just not getting value for money. The latter is closer to the truth. In terms of total per capita spending we rank ahead of countries such as Finland and Iceland. Yet they both are well ahead of Ireland when it comes to the Euro Health Consumer Index with a ranking of 3rd and 10th respectively compared to Ireland’s 15th position. Belgium with only a slightly higher per capita spending is ranked at sixth. I wonder in the past when deciding on how to move heavy goods from one place to another did those living on this island try to reinvent the wheel or did we just copy something that already existed. From what I can see we copied an already perfectly great idea. Why on earth we cannot do the same when it comes to our health service just baffles me. I can hear the stampede on the keyboards already saying that you can’t do that because of XYZ. Why not. Take Finland for example. Similar size population. Even more dispersed than Ireland. Yet they are getting it far more right than we are.
Specifically in relation to the experience people had at the A&E that my family attended. It is common knowledge that due to problems with the fair deal scheme, there are elderly people on hospital wards who neither want to be or need to be there. Many others with a little assistance from the state could actually be at home at a fraction of the cost. The knock on effect is chaos when it comes to providing hospital accommodation. It also leads to ambulances having to queue for hours outside A&Es. This has gone on for years yet has never been solved. But then again how can you solve the problem when in the eyes of the Government our health service “extraordinarily good”. That’s what our ‘socialist’ Junior Minister for Health Kathleen Lynch said just last Saturday.
OPPOSITION MUST OFFERS SOLUTIONS.
I agree that it is very easy for opposition politicians to complain about government while not comIng up with solutions themselves. It is also easy for trolls from political parties to claim that opposition politicians offer no alternative. Check the Dáil record if you think I haven’t put forward positive ideas which would improve this country immensely.
LOCAL AUTHORITY EXPERIENCE.
The one area which I have always been very clear about is local Government. A boring topic to many but in essence the most important issue of all. One of the biggest jobs of a County Councillor is to hold civil servants to account when it comes to how our money is spent and our services are delivered. Under the current system those who hold them to account are hamstrung by the fact that they must also depend on them for funding. In fact on numerous occasions I had other Councillors express “concern” to me that I wouldn’t get funding for local projects unless I kept silent about obvious bad practices within the local authority.
During my time as a County Councillor I spent many days reporting pollution incidents. Some caused by private individuals others by the Council itself. One particular incident involved raw sewage being pumped by the Council into the River Francis, a fish sanctuary, which runs through Castlerea town. I duly reported the incident to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is where it gets farcical. The EPA got the local authority to investigate who was responsible. A bit like asking Al Capone to run your local bank. After ‘investigating’, the council got back to the EPA and gave themselves a clean bill of health. What happened to myself the whistleblower? Well I got warned by the council that they would never lift a finger for one of my constituents ever again. The following year our swimming pool was closed for half the summer. The lesson. Whistleblowers in Ireland usually get found in the bottom of a lake with the whistle in the back of their throat.
At some stage in the new year the people of my town will be officially able to drink the water from the taps. This will obviously be a good day. Our local government TD will come back to the town he abandoned and claim he is a god. Maybe even a plaque with their name on it will go on the pumphouse. At the same time we will still have a local Authority that gets to investigate itself when it pollutes our water supply. They will dump buckets of chlorine into the new system so that no bug can survive. It will taste like the water in the pool they play politics with. It will pass the test in the lab. But will it be as good as it could. No.
CHANGING OUR WAYS
How would Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan change that. I would do what they do in most democracies in the world. I would give those we elect the power to make real decisions. If they then discover anything wasteful or untoward they can act without fear of retribution. If during my time as a Counillor I had real power to direct the civil servants I believe we would not now have a water contamination problem in Roscommon. For a start I would fire everyone responsible. So what did actually happen. Those people are either pensioned off or continuing to negatively impact on the services they have the cheek to claim that they provide. Many will say we can’t trust those we elect at a local level with real powers. Surely it would be better just to be a little bit more careful who we vote for. Simple enough really. It has to be better than faceless senior civil servants making decisions without any regard for the impact they have on the citizens who pay their wages.
RUNNING OFF TO EUROPE….
To those who say I galavanted off to Europe. Incorrect. Successive Irish governments galavanted off to Europe and sold us out for a bent penny or two. They capitulated when it came to standing up for us during the banking crisis. Even with the Common Agriculture Policy, one of the few positives emanating from the EU, the government robbed the delivery truck before it came to those in most need. In the same way as I didn’t want to go trick or treating with the children at Halloween I did so for a reason. I did it because I couldn’t really trust what they’d get up to on their own so I went to look over their shoulder.
If I only went to Europe on two specific missions, odious bank debt and CAP it would I believe make sense. Every year we pay €1.6billion interest on a debt we don’t owe. Every year the IFA/Goodman/Coveney axis get to divide up €1.5 billion as it wishes among their friends. Should I leave it to the likes of Jim Higgins and Brian Hayes to change that? A bit like expecting water to run up hill. It is for these reasons and many others that I ran for election to the European Parliament.
Will I solve it all. Not on my own. No one person will. The solution is for more people to put their names on the ballot paper and to take the power back. The type of people who are not in denial about the state of services in this country. The rest will take care of itself.
Enda Kenny said the water protests are about more than water. Well for the first time in his political career he has got it spot on. On December 10th show him what you think. Get out there and be heard. Then watch things change.