Tuesday 22 October 2019

Editorial: 'The Tone is not the problem, Taoiseach, it's the substance'

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank Mc Grath


Super sensitive to even a breath of criticism, the current US president devised a tactic of unleashing a hurricane of hot air to blow it away. His defence augmented with a flood of demonstrably false counter claims clouded waters further, rendering attempts at seeking transparency futile. His mastery of the routine has earned recognition as the 'Trump effect'.

The Taoiseach appears to have adapted a similar routine with his attempt to undermine very real concerns of consultants at Waterford Regional Hospital about appalling conditions at the mortuary, and the distress they were causing to bereaved families. In a letter sent to the HSE in October of last year, the four pathologists said dead bodies had been left lying on trolleys at the hospital.

The four pathologists said the current facilities was "unsafe for staff, visitors and the general public and represent a gross affront to the dignity of the deceased and bereaved".

This should have triggered alarm bells in Government and provoked an immediate response. But instead of accepting responsibility and sharing the revulsion of the country, Leo Varadkar cast doubt on the reports.

He said he was not sure if the claims were true as there was "no evidence" to support them. For families and the consultants, such a reaction was quite extraordinary.

Yesterday Mr Varadkar was accused by Labour leader Brendan Howlin of Trumpian tactics for brushing away inconvenient truths. The doctors have stood over their claims and claimed "body storage on the floor of the mortuary" was required recently because of a "surge in activity". The Taoiseach now says he "regrets the tone" of his remarks. It is not the tone but the substance of the comments that matters. Whatever regret Mr Varadkar may have felt was clearly not enough for him to withdraw them.

He has attempted to shield himself from further stinging criticism by suggesting he never specifically challenged the views of the doctors. He did not have to. By suggesting there was nothing concrete to substantiate the doctors' claims, he had - in the finest traditions of fake news - done enough to sow a doubt in their veracity.

He further claimed he did not want to get involved in "adjudicating a dispute between one group of staff and another group of staff". But that is precisely what he did. If Mr Varadkar is genuinely sorry for his clumsy comments, he should make a respectful apology.

When the consultants put their professional concerns in writing, they did so out of a duty of care. To have their worries questioned by the Taoiseach is the last thing they'd have expected. Have we learned nothing about the need to speak out when standards are not being met and the public is being let down?

Irish Independent

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