21 January 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Observers of the ongoing convulsions in the Fianna Fáil party, quelled temporarily by this week’s somewhat pyrrhic confidence motion victory by the obdurate but enduring Brian Cowen, and watchers of the wider political scene generally might be tempted to sum it all up by turning a well-worn phrase on its head and declaring the current state of the nation a case of “too many Indians, not enough chiefs”.
That Mr Cowen survived the half-hearted heave against him is a tribute to his street-fighting skills and his adeptness at manipulating the insecurities rampant among his dysfunctional political family. And not to sidestep a political eclipse that would forever have been associated with allegations of impropriety as a result of golf course and dinner table dalliances with Seán FitzPatrick and Anglo Irish Bank would have been an ignominious and undeserved fate for a man for whom integrity clearly matters.
Undoubtedly, however, if there had been within the ranks of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party a challenger with charismatic leadership attributes, Mr Cowen would not have survived the past week’s events. The lack of a compelling alternative figurehead for the party in its current crisis was ultimately the decisive element in the internecine drama.
This is not a good thing for FF as it faces into an extremely difficult General Election. It would appear, on the other hand, a very good thing indeed for the parties who hope to profit in that election from the widespread disaffection with the senior partner in Government. But is there really within any of their rival ranks, either at the summit or waiting in the wings, someone who possesses the qualities expected of a leader of a nation?
There is a difference between the leader of a party and the leader of a country. The former has to inspire confidence and loyalty among adherents to a common political ideology; the latter must at least aspire to an appeal that transcends a nation’s differences.
Where are Ireland’s modern statesmen? If some miracle occurred following the next General Election and there was agreement to a national government to guide the country out of the remaining years of its economic crisis, who among the ranks of national politicians could claim the credentials for leading it?
Those loyal to the various shades of political opinion would no doubt readily offer a name or two to supply the answers to these questions. But what sort of consensus would their nominees command among the population as a whole, particularly that growing section of it deeply disenchanted with the functioning of government and those we put in charge of it?
That is a question less automatically answered. It can be endlessly debated what portion of the country’s current difficulties are attributable to a conspicuous lack of decent national political leadership, and what portion lies at the door of global economic events beyond the ability of any national administration to hold at bay. What appears beyond debate, however, is that the road out of the gloom and back to the brighter plains of prosperity will, for Ireland, be a long and arduous one without a strong and inspirational figure walking at the head of the nation.
Voters in the looming election will find themselves asking many questions of the canvassers who brave their doorsteps. Perhaps the most pertinent one they can pose is: Statesmen, where are ye?

Should Monaghan Town have its own Doctor on Call service for people requiring medical attention when GPs’ surgeries are closed?
An emphatic yes to this question has been articulated for some time now by Sinn Féin public representative Paul McGeown and his colleagues on Monaghan Town Council.
Colr McGeown raised the issue again at Monday’s meeting of the authority, referring to the difficulties experienced by local people in accessing medical assistance over the Christmas holiday period, when many doctors’ surgeries in North Monaghan were closed and the demand for the Doctor on Call service operating out of Castleblayney was such that, according to the evidence cited by Colr McGeown, its capacity was pushed to overload.
There is undoubtedly in the north of our county in particular a heightened sense of insecurity about access to medical treatment in emergency situations. The removal of services from Monaghan General Hospital has generated considerable public fears over the ability to get to a doctor or hospital in time when crisis strikes, fuelled by a mounting body of anecdotal evidence, not all of it admittedly substantiated, of life-and-death situations being exacerbated by the hospital’s unavailability at these times.
The location of an out-of-hours facility in Castleblayney, presumably intended to help supplant the hospital services removed from Monaghan and provide some measure of reassurance to the public, has accentuated rather than allayed the prevailing fears, particularly for those living in the rural hinterland of Monaghan Town who might have to overcome considerable transport difficulties to access the emergency medical attention being sought.
There is evidence that the ‘Blayney-based service is working well, but it has an intimidatingly large catchment area and there are surely times, like the holiday period referred by Colr McGeown, when its operators are put under extreme pressure. In such instances the patient inevitably suffers, perhaps not on every occasion to the ultimate detriment of their health by delayed treatment, but in very many cases through an additional burden of anxiety and distress being added to the physical malady that has stricken them.
In such circumstances, the Monaghan councillors’ argument that the spare capacity existing at present in Monaghan General Hospital could be utilised for an out-of-hours service that was at least supplementary to that available in Mid-Monaghan has a humane appeal that is compelling.
There is force, too, in the councillors’ request to the general practitioners of the North Monaghan area to make their views known on the subject. The informed perspective they could lend to the debate would be extremely valuable and might serve to provide some measure of reassurance to the people of the area. For at the present time, there undoubtedly exists among the North Monaghan public a mounting fear that the guarantee of proper medical attention at times of emergency is a precarious one.

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