The national scandal of our maternity services
'Chairman, there's women I know waiting 12 months to get a bed in the maternity ward."
The legendary utterance of a local councillor at a health board meeting in the late 1990s, which extended pregnancies by a good three months, springs to mind when considering the plight of expectant mothers heading into the National Maternity Hospital.
Holles Street hospital, the busiest in the country, sees almost 10,000 babies delivered every year.
Nobody is questioning the clinical competence or compassionate care of the medical staff. But a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) found overcrowding and very poor hygiene.
HIQA said there are too few delivery rooms, and in the neonatal intensive care unit, 46 babies were accommodated in a unit designed for 36.
The antiquated conditions at the hospital are a microcosm of the problems now besetting the country. During the time of plenty, a new facility should have been built, but wasn't.
During the downturn, a new facility should have been built, but the funds weren't available.
The new facility is supposed to be built by 2018. But planning permission still hasn't been applied for, so it will be 2019, at the earliest, before it is built.
In the meantime, what are expectant mothers supposed to do? Are they to wait three years to give birth?
The inadequate state of the maternity facilities in the country is pertinent to the debate in the General Election.
The standards and staffing of health service facilities are well below the levels expected of a modern country. Yet the Coalition parties are too busy making fantasy promises and the Opposition have no coherent plans on basic policies.
Meanwhile, the National Maternity Hospital is a national scandal.
Voters deserve straight answers on a FG/FF deal
The established parties seem to be marching in lock-step on a journey from nowhere to nowhere if the opinion polls ring true. One question has dominated the political agenda over the last few days, and that is will Fine Gael enter into a grand coalition with Fianna Fáil? Taoiseach Enda Kenny left the door ajar to such a possibility over the weekend by failing to explicitly state that there were no circumstances under which he would go into government with Fianna Fáil. He said that the "proposition" to voters is for a return of the Labour/FG Coalition.
Given the opportunity once more yesterday, Mr Kenny insisted he was the first party leader to rule out the possibility of a coalition with the party's rival. "I've ruled them out on at least 10 occasions in the last fortnight and I do so again now, very clearly," he said. But it isn't clear. Given another chance to be definitive, he again came up short. "I thought people in the media are very careful about records." The Taoiseach merely has to state that he will never go into coalition with Fianna Fáil. He recently inferred that the Irish people were not up to understanding economics. Now journalists are unable to read records.
But this isn't about gratifying the media. Mr Kenny needs to clear the fog he has brought down over the issue because he has left Labour foundering; and more importantly, the voter deserves to be given an absolutely unambiguous answer.