23 September 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The attacks made on local and national representatives of Fine Gael at Monday night’s meeting of Monaghan Town Council (see story, page 1) on the grounds of failure to deliver on pre-election promises in relation to Monaghan General Hospital were strong ones even by the bare-knuckle standards of political rhetoric that are a recurrent feature of local authority debating chambers in Co Monaghan.
They were, to a degree, animated by political opportunism – payback time for a party that itself had been sharply critical of Government policy in relation to local health services when in Opposition.
But what is discussed in our Council chambers is generally a mirror of what is on the minds of the people who elect the local politicians who populate them – and Monday night’s debate was also powerfully reflective of the disillusionment and frustration of the wider public as they witness the further winnowing away of the service provision at their hospital at a time when a change of Government had created expectations that its fortunes might stabilise if not improve.
There is a natural inclination to expect different policy directions when the leadership of the country changes hue.
Prior to the last General Election, the voters of Cavan/Monaghan, and other parts of the country where hospital services are a major issue, were conditioned to expect a change for the positive by the campaigns of the FG and Labour candidates who were poised for power.
In fairness these promises were moderated in many instances by reference to the difficult prevailing economic climate and the very advanced stage of downgrading to which many hospital services, those in Monaghan most particularly, had been subjected.
There was realism to many of the promises, but not to all – and there were instances, some in the columns of this newspaper customarily made available to candidates and their campaigners in the course of election campaigns, when what was promised in relation to Monaghan General Hospital would have convinced only the most politically partisan or politically naïve of the practical prospect of its delivery.
How much the more hospital guarantees fuelled the tide of support that elected three FG TDs in Cavan/Monaghan is debatable – it might have added a few buckets of water to the tsunami wave of change in which Fianna Fáil’s fortunes capsized, but it would be a slight on the savvy and discrimination of the voters in our circulation area to suggest that it was more than that.
What was cultivated in the people, however, was a broader expectation that a new Government, and a new Minister, would see a fundamental change in how health services in this country were delivered and administered.
Dr James Reilly, the “new sheriff in town” as Fianna Fáil’s Robbie Gallagher described him on Monday, made a promising start, with a high-profile dismissal of the board of the Health Service Executive and the striking of an attitude that suggested he was determined to reclaim his portfolio from the grasp of administrative unaccountability and self-serving vested interest into which his predecessors had allowed it to slip.
But Dr Reilly has appeared to flounder in his new surroundings, and now conveys the image of a decent man bewildered and becalmed by the labyrinth into which he has been cast.
The image that has been conveyed of him as he received a recent delegation of local public representatives and activists to discuss Monaghan General Hospital – surrounded by a cabal of HSE advisers and deferential to their promptings – is a disheartening one.
Admittedly that image has been reflected to us through a lens wielded by those not politically attuned to the new Minister, but representatives of his own party present on the occasion have not succeeded in painting a picture of that meeting that holds any compelling power of contrast.
It is this image, we suggest, more than any misguided or misleading election promise, that has fuelled the general public disillusionment that found sharp voice at Monday night’s meeting of Monaghan Town Council.
After all, if the Minister can’t change things, who can?
It has certainly contributed to the feeling of helplessness that is abroad among the people of this county over the still declining fortunes of our hospital, and which was well articulated on Monday night by Sinn Féin’s Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha.
In the vacuum created by the absence of real Ministerial power, and an environment when fiscal rectitude or the illusion of it can justify just about anything, it is easy for those who are really running the health service to continue to wage war on Monaghan General Hospital.
They can, for example, justify reducing the hours of the Minor Injury Unit in operation there by citing a saving of €0.5 million – and tell the Minister, perchance he was to protest, that they are only following his cost-cutting directives.
There were conflicting messages about this proposal at Monday night’s meeting – FG’s Tommy Hagan seemed convinced that it would take place come October, while his colleague and Council Cathaoirleach David Maxwell, who is a member of the HSE North-East regional body, was unaware of any official confirmation.
The confusion is itself eloquent of the shifty way such decisions are arrived at and implemented by the HSE, with as scant regard for the people’s representatives as for the people themselves.
Given the chasm between promise and delivery on health service reform so far evident in the life of the current Government, we would respectfully suggested to our FG representatives at Dáil and local Council level to append their names to a formal written request to Minister Reilly to come to Monaghan Town before the end of this year.
There is a compelling need for the Minister, divested of his HSE handlers, to visit Monaghan General Hospital personally and see for himself not merely the difficulties caused by service removal and cutback, but the potential that remains inherent in both staff and facilities to deliver an enhanced medical provision to its catchment area with the proper innovations and supports.
There is also a compelling need for the Minister to meet the people of Monaghan and to dispel the fog of confusion by telling them in plain and simple terms exactly what he can and can’t do in relation to their hospital.
The people of Monaghan are long overdue clarity on the hospital’s future. Only the Minister can deliver it, and he should do so personally.
The news might not be to our liking, but it would be infinitely better than living on vain hopes and patronising promises.

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