Sunday 21 January 2018

What trolley crisis? It's simply a bed with wheels...

Charles Haughey and Des O'Malley during their period in coalition together in 1991. Haughey would resign the following year. Photo: Photocall
Charles Haughey and Des O'Malley during their period in coalition together in 1991. Haughey would resign the following year. Photo: Photocall

As the Berlin Wall tumbled in November 1989, liberating East Germans from decades of crushing grey austerity, many here wondered when their sentence would end. As winter bit, so did the trolley crisis. Recently returned to power with the PDs, having surrendered its "core value" of no coalition, CJ Haughey's Fianna Fáil defended a groaning health service.

As Minister for Health Rory O'Hanlon TD insisted "Waiting lists are a very unreliable measure of the availability of health services", FF's Dr John O'Connell argued there was no bed shortage because a trolley was simply a bed with wheels, and Haughey told Pat Kenny: "Just because a person is on a trolley doesn't mean they are being neglected."

The coalition quelled the public assertions by PD leader Des O'Malley that the Irish taxpayer might lose untold millions in a dodgy three-way arrangement involving FF, beef-baron Larry Goodman and Iraq's murderous dictator Saddam Hussein.

The media wouldn't let it drop, and pressed, Haughey said there was no risk to the taxpayer. He described the Iraqi despot and his henchmen as "honourable people". Five years on, the report of the Beef Tribunal would find differently.

Whispers of a golden circle surrounding Haughey were growing louder by the day. Labour leader Dick Spring said: "His idea of being accountable to the people appears to consist of being photographed with celebrities. Oddly enough, he's never managed to be photographed with some of the very rich people to whom he's particularly close."

Weeks earlier, Communications Minister Ray Burke had gleefully rubbed shoulders with Terry Wogan, Chris de Burgh and a host of celebrities at the launch of his pet project Century Radio. Wogan and De Burgh were amongst the investors in Ireland's first national commercial station. Fianna Fáilers made no secret of the fact that they wanted Century to be an alternative opinion-former to RTÉ, which was perceived as hostile.

Century's slogan was "radio like you've never heard it before", but by November it was already "radio like you've never heard it at all". Its geographical coverage was half that promised to advertisers and it was losing money hand over fist. The plug would be pulled in 1991, and the licence would eventually be revived as today's Newstalk.

The future looked equally bleak for another newcomer, Fair City. Ireland's first urban soap since the 1960s was created in the image of EastEnders, and one of the originators of the BBC show was drafted in to make it work.

But after six weeks on air, it clearly wasn't working. Viewers and critics alike complained that, for all its jumpy cuts, nothing much ever seemed to happen in Carrigstown. Montrose execs considered axing Fair City at the end of its first run, but opted instead to retool and give it a second chance.

Meanwhile, vicious thug Martin Cahill AKA The General, ruled patches of the real life inner-city Dublin. Drawing the dole each week, he would put on a clownish show, throwing money back at the clerks, telling them they needed it more than him.

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