Great expectations

11 March 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The declaration by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore that there would be no honeymoon period for the new Coalition Government that was beginning its formal coming into being yesterday as these words were being written was a realistic – and prescient – pronouncement.
The Fine Gael and Labour leaders have already ample knowledge of the weight of expectation implicit in the powerful mandate bestowed upon them by the electorate. Decisions and pronouncements made at Monday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council supplied more.
The new holders of Ministerial office will soon discover in their IN trays petitions from the Monaghan councillors in relation to Monaghan General Hospital, the EirGrid interconnector project, funding for access for the disabled initiatives, and a variety of other requests.
If the actions of the Monaghan authority are replicated by their fellow county and municipal authorities the length and breadth of the country, our new Ministers will be under no illusion as to the burden of accountability that accompanies their entry into office.
But this is a government that takes up its responsibilities in an environment of extreme financial difficulty, in a country economically crippled and married to an enormous burden of international indebtedness possessed of a capacity for renegotiation that is hotly disputed and likely to preoccupy the Government’s early strategic planning to the exclusion of all but the most urgent of parochial concerns.
If the recent voting decisions of the Irish people were animated by a demand for radical political change, they cannot have been made without acknowledgement of the constraints on the new administration they were putting into power.
The vastly changed interior landscape of Dáil Éireann might have the superficial appearance of revolution, but it has in reality been equipped by the people to bring about an incremental evolution in the manner in which they wish to be governed. The people are prepared to wait for results, but they will wait expectantly.
The new Government might not have been bequeathed a honeymoon period, but they will enjoy a certain armistice of good will – an apportionment of time and space in which they can shape a coherent policy direction.
This much was evident, too, at Monday’s Monaghan Co Council meeting when reflections on the General Election result were inflected with a desire for successful government that transcended partisan political affiliation.
This did not, however, stay the members from dispatching a ‘wish list’ to Dublin. And they were right to do so.
Local government is, after all, just that – functioning at local level, in its ideal form at least, with equivalence to its national counterpart.
The interdependence of local and national models of administration was well captured by Acting Co Manager David Fallon. Local government, he said, also played an essential part – it had given its allegiance to national government since the foundation of the State and that was set to continue.
In making its representations to the new Government before it had even formally taken office, the Council was sending out a reminder of its own function in the political system – and a timely one, given that elements of the new Programme for Government that deal with public sector reform, and changes being contemplated in the structure and responsibilities of local authorities, are likely to have profound and possible adverse consequences for bodies like themselves.
As to our county councillors’ specific concerns, it was no surprise that Monaghan General Hospital should figure in their vanguard.
The restoration of a level of services at the hospital commensurate with the needs of the catchment it serves, and the addition of appropriate services at the facility, encapsulates a priority shared by the greater proportion of our county’s population. It is an aspiration that transcends their entitlements as citizens to equity of health care provision to impinge upon the future prosperity of the local economy and its ability to attract significant industry and investment and sustain population growth.
Monaghan General Hospital remains uppermost in the hearts and minds of the people of Co Monaghan. While there is no longer any realistic expectation that maternity services will be restored there, the feasibility of bringing back at least some of the acute services and improving the provision at the hospital for emergency care has been actively canvassed.
While the Sinn Féin urgent business motion passed at Monday’s meeting sought comprehensive restoration and improvement of services in the context of a radical overhaul of health services nationally, its most significant element would appear to be a request for a meeting with the new Minister for Health at which the hospital’s future and other important health issues in the county can be discussed. Such a meeting is extremely important to bring clarity and realism to the prospect of the current service provision at the Monaghan hospital being improved.
During the General Election campaign there were some simplistic utterances in political press releases that the return of the Fine Gael party to power would see full services at the hospital restored. It should be remembered that FG leader Enda Kenny, in an interview with this newspaper some time ago, spoke frankly about the difficulty inherent in trying to put services back into a hospital once they had been taken away.
Party spokesperson on Gealth Dr James Reilly, the likely inheritor of the Health portfolio in the new Government, spoke in more positive terms about the capacity for future service enhancement at Monaghan Hospital when he addressed a subsequent public meeting in the town, but even his comments were more freighted with equivocation that some local party representatives have interpreted them.
A clear, precise and unequivocal statement of what the new Government intend to do with regard to services at Monaghan General Hospital is now urgently required.
The meeting proposed by Monaghan Co Council with the new Health Minister would seem to offer the prospect of such a declaration, and we hope that this request is one that is responded to by the Minister speedily and positively. The people of Monaghan deserve to know what is going to happen with their hospital now that a new government has come to power.
Monaghan people’s demands for better hospital services are just one of many facing the new Government. To take liberties with Dickens, the new administration is taking over a Bleak House but carrying with them Great Expectations.
There is a difficult balancing act inherent in that situation which the Coalition will be tasked to the extreme to get right. The country will watch with interest as this new political era unfolds.

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