Sunday 25 August 2019

Miriam O'Callaghan: 'Mysteries that mask the real issues we face'

Fact and reason take a back seat in today's set of public health and political priorities

SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Leo Varadkar is the only European leader known to have proposed fake social media accounts commenting favourably on the Government. Pic Steve Humphreys
SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Leo Varadkar is the only European leader known to have proposed fake social media accounts commenting favourably on the Government. Pic Steve Humphreys

Miriam O'Callaghan

When the late US Democrat Mario Cuomo said politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, he hadn't imagined our Republic of Opportunity, where it's all about the poetic theory of Negative Capability. Readers who did the Leaving Cert in the era of Soundings will remember Keats's negative capability as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason".

A look at public health and political priorities suggests that for the electorate, negative capability is required at a level exceeding that of the data-diseased Public Service Card, being "mandatory" and "compulsory".

Take the recent political priorities of FG. In July alone, Greenland lost 217bn tonnes of ice - 217bn tonnes of meltwater went thundering into the Atlantic.

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Newly elected MEP Maria Walsh who has been silent on recent shocking levels of global warming. Photo: Brian Farrell
Newly elected MEP Maria Walsh who has been silent on recent shocking levels of global warming. Photo: Brian Farrell

That's our Atlantic, washing our beaches at Kilkee and Lahinch, Banna and Ballybunion. It confirms we're not waiting for climate crisis any more. We're in it. Our younger generation is especially worried. They hope for seasons, birdsong, crops, food, wildlife, oxygen, functioning societies, an Atlantic that won't be closed to them through air turbulence, or that won't kill them and their children by storm or inundation. Despite what neoliberalism did to Her, they hope for some residual clemency from Mother Earth.

This is the very generation that MEP Maria Walsh is "passionate about empowering". What this means is a minor Keatsian mystery. The major mystery is why with 217bn tonnes of meltwater thundering for her political constituency, she ignores the event, to throw all her political "passion" and worry at the oxbow lake of Young Fine Gael.

Ice? Two cubes, thanks. No, make it three, to cool the "outrage" at the YFG 2 attending a Conservative US youth convention, where Republican Mike Pence would be speaking. The trip was paid for by themselves and a think-tank promoting "the politics of the market".

The MEP's "outrage" was echoed by Dublin Dail hopeful Deirdre Duffy. Together, the politicians rejected spin and fake news, the language of hate and division. The YFG 2 don't represent their party, its progressiveness, its values. So how about the following?.

Conservatism? For anyone born before the era of Polly Pocket (I go back to The Magic Roundabout and Trumpton when it still meant Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb myself) FG is the conservative party of Irish politics and Government.

Fake News? Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is the only European leader known to have proposed fake social media accounts commenting favourably on the work of a government.

Spin? The current administration spent a record €1.7m on spin in 17 months, as opposed to the €16,200 spent in the previous period by the previous incumbents.

Market politics? FG's policies in health and housing prove it to be the exemplar of same.

Division? FG has widened and deepened the gap in Irish society, successfully creating a sub-class of person who can wait, indefinitely, for healthcare or a home.

Progressiveness? Proposing that our highly-educated young adults pay €1,300 a month to live in a tarted-up hostel is progressive only to FG, a developer or hedge fund.

Language of hate? In the European Parliament, MEP Walsh belongs to the same political grouping as Viktor Orban. The language of hate arrives live on her headphones, from her own political family.

Right-wing politics? Mike Pence is the Vice President of the United States. If anything happens to Trump, he's our guy. We keep our normal diplomatic relations with the administration. (Something I find regrettable). Chances are, the YFG 2 won't be ushering in the Pence World Order.

Yes, FG stepped outside its conservative skin on Marriage Equality, campaigning for Yes, looking outwardly, and I believe joyfully, to the lives of all same-sex couples the referendum could and would transform.

With the referendum on the Eighth it did it again. Though, this time, I believe campaigning for Yes saw FG look inwards to its own popularity and survival, as opposed to outward to the lives of our girls and women. Government handling of CervicalCheck confirms my view. Moreover, in the realpolitik of "Followership" over Leadership, I believe the health crisis would end, overnight, if the popular movement Together for Yes were replicated in Together for Care.

Currently, the Twitter hashtag #carecantwait is being used by doctors, patients and their families to hammer home their shared message: they've had enough of the not-so-glorious mystery of how 560,000 people are waiting to see a dwindling number of consultants - 560,000 is the equivalent of seven jammed Croke Parks. Or more than 900 packed Boeing 747s. Or more than the entire population of the cities of Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Kilkenny and the towns of Sligo, Tralee, Athlone, Wicklow, Drogheda and Mullingar combined. In Munster, GPs and TDs are weeding out the waiting lists by filling up the buses. For the cure for cataracts, Belfast is the new Lourdes. Only, we'll stick to the land with our sorties. The sight of 900 747s from the Republic might put the heart crossways on Sammy Wilson.

The case of the Vanishing Consultants takes the Keatsian mystery deeper. Doctor, 100ccs of Negative Capability stat. Ireland has the lowest rate of hospital consultants in the EU: 42pc below the European average. Despite Emergency Consultant at the CUH, Dr Conor Deasy, putting the national death-rate due to A&E overcrowding at 300 a year, a fifth of hospital-consultant posts remain unfilled. To compound this, 700 specialists have haemorrhaged from our hospitals, exhaustion, poor working conditions and pay exacerbating the flow.

Psychiatry, often the invisible speciality, is heavily impacted. But when the political poetics are about donning the Lycra, strutting, selfie-ing from Darkness into Light, does it matter that those waiting for specialists for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are stumbling from Darkness into Hell? Campaigner Raymond Shannon's teenage son is camped out in an adult psychiatric facility in Wexford to get the help he needs. As Mr Shannon puts it, his long-term plan is to keep his young son alive until tomorrow.

The state of psychiatry is dire in Wexford, deteriorating in Dublin. Wexford has had no consultant child psychiatrist since the outstanding Dr Kieran Moore resigned more than a year ago, citing his position as "unsafe and untenable". Slugs sliming along his clinic floor, no blinds on the windows, no proper facilities to take bloods are redolent of the reports on the old madhouses, not the psychiatric facilities of a country so politically sassy, so socially glossy, it wants a seat on the UN Security Council. In Wexford, a new CAMH facility at Arden House was scheduled to open in 2017. It hasn't. A building, itself, cannot provide specialist care. Spin doctors can't spin doctors from political straw.

But the State has a game-plan for our hospital doctor crisis. The president of the High Court, Justice Peter Kelly, is none too keen on it. I call it Doctor Roulette. Last winter, Justice Kelly instructed that his concerns about the defective recruitment procedures for hospital doctors be raised with the Minister for Health. The far-from-isolated case of a doctor hired to work in obstetrics, found he lacked even basic medical competence and was reported by his colleagues. Justice Kelly asks how a grade of 55/100 could be awarded by the recruiting panel? How they could say he was "short on experience" when, in fact, "he had none at all". "He was eager to learn," they said. But as Justice Kelly puts it "learn at whose expense?"

YFG have lots to learn and unlearn. They suffer from the conservative certainty, that in office, condemns people to hubs, hotels, to waiting years for proper wheel-chairs for their children or medical attention for themselves. YFG's point on the right to demur from the social consensus is valid.

The right to hold and express divergent views signals the health of a democracy, not least of a modern republic. YFG have no local, national or European power. Their publicly-elected FG critics do. With chaos in the Arctic, tents on the streets, over a million of us waiting for some form of healthcare, their political "outrage" is a distraction.

No Keatsian mystery: you know which group to fear.

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