18 November 2004 Edition

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'Socialist' Bertie challenged on Health

During Leader's Question in the Dáil on Tuesday, Ireland's newest 'socialist', Bertie Ahern, was challenged on the state of the health services by Sinn Féin, including the fact that 25,000 workers in the services have been so alienated by lack of clarity on so-called reforms that they are refusing to co-operate with the new Health Services Executive.

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin also highlighted Health Minister Mary Harney's plans for more privatisation in the health services, despite Bertie Ahern's claimed "republican and socialist ideals". Ó Caoláin asked:

"Is the Taoiseach aware of the great disaffection and disgruntlement in the IMPACT trade union, which represents some 25,000 health service workers and is advising its members not to participate in briefings organised by the new Health Service Executive? Does he agree that this is a result of the failure to properly explain to and engage with the union and its membership and that people feel they have been left in the dark?

"Will the Taoiseach explain to the House why, a short time before the changeover from what remains of the health board structures to the new Health Services Executive, we are looking at absolute chaos? Why has the Government so mismanaged this? Is the Taoiseach also aware that people with disabilities have expressed concern? While they have been engaged in a liaison role with the existing health structures, they are in the dark as to how they are to relate to the new health structure when it is established.

"Does all this not indicate that we will face weeks and possibly months of bureaucratic chaos in the course of this transition? Energy will be spent on this that would have been better employed in ensuring there is delivery of critical services at the coalface of the health service, in terms of the appointment of more nurses, seriously tackling the crisis in the Accident and Emergency sector and making more beds available."

The Taoiseach said there would be "no loss of momentum in the reform programme". He said he "hoped I hope the trade union leaders will engage with the changes and the restructuring".

Ó Caoláin pointed to the recent statement from the Tánaiste, which "indicates that she might want to increase private sector involvement in the health services. How does that affect the Taoiseach, given that he is such an exponent of republican and socialist ideals?" he asked, warning against "the further privatisation of the health services".

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