8 February 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly TD may or may not be a God-fearing man, but had he happened to pop his head around the door of the meeting chamber of Monaghan Co Council on Monday morning, he might have had occasion to recall the above quotation from the Gospel of Matthew and ponder upon its righteous weight.

He would have heard being played to the members, via the laptop of Sinn Féin representative Sean Conlon, an internet video clip of a rousing pre-General Election speech he delivered from the steps of Monaghan Courthouse in which, as the then Opposition Spokesperson for Health, he vouched certain promises about the safeguarding of services at Monaghan General Hospital.

The footage is by now well known to those with an interest in the hospital saga and has been utilised by campaigners to highlight the gulf between political promise and delivery that has been the experience of the hospital’s fortunes since the Fine Gael/Labour Government took office and Dr Reilly was ensconced in the Health portfolio.

On Monday the SF members deployed the clip as a novel and very effective strategy to give weight to a notice of urgent business renewing pressure on the Minister to make good his Monaghan Hospital promises in the light of the funding he has sanctioned for upgrades at hospitals in Wexford and Kilkenny.

It is certainly an example par excellence of the counterfeit nature of the political promise. Dr Reilly is in full streetfighting flow, rousing the crowd into a fervour with a rallying cry against the treatment their hospital services were subjected to under Fianna Fáil-led government administrations, and culminating his diatribe with a vow to resign from office if he didn’t protect them better as Health Minister.

It would be misguided to believe that these words now hold any meaning for the Minister, just as similarly emotive speeches delivered by his Cabinet colleagues on the campaign trail no longer govern their conduct of Government business.

But what Dr Reilly said on the Monaghan Courthouse steps did hold considerable meaning for a large section of the voters of this county. They believed in his words sufficiently to subsequently elect two FG TDs in Co Monaghan and three in the constituency – and did so in the belief that their hospital services would be preserved and improved as a result.

They were badly misled.

And it was not just the voters who were let down. The loyal FG foot soldiers of Co Monaghan, the councillors and party activists who worked zealously to help win the General Election, also believed in what Dr Reilly had to say.

Their deep hurt was evident in the strong contribution made to Monday’s Council debate by the longest-serving member of the authority and the current Co Mayor, Hugh McElvaney, whose record of campaigning in the hospital cause is unmatched among public representatives for its longevity, and perhaps also for its consistency and sincerity.

The effect of the Mayor’s plea to the Minister for action and the passing of the SF motion at Monday’s Council meeting will be awaited with interest in this county.

If would be surprising if the Minister responded by sanctioning meaningful expenditure or service restoration at Monaghan General Hospital.

The upgrades to take place at the hospitals in Wexford and Kilkenny are in the process of being vigorously justified by both Dr Reilly and his Cabinet colleagues Brendan Howlin and Phil Hogan, in whose constituencies they have been sanctioned – and reasons will be found for their particular prioritisation, as there are more hospitals than that of Monaghan whose expectations of similar favour will have to be quelled.

But it would be disappointing if the Minister, busy as he will be with those matters, did not at least accord the Mayor and the Council members the courtesy of a much fuller response to their concerns than the cursory acknowledgements and terse refusals with which he has responded to their recent representations on the hospital issue and requests for meetings. That is the very least that they, and the people of the county who trusted in Dr Reilly’s pre-election promises, are due.

No formal mechanism seems to exist to hold politicians accountable for their promises. But there should be no need of one.

A pledge to do something opens an unwritten contact of trust with those who place faith in that promise – considerations of principle and decency should be sufficient guarantors that such contracts are not carelessly broken.

We expect high standards of principle and decency in all those we elect to represent us, with the highest burden in this regard placed on the shoulders of those who take on the onerous responsibility of national office.

Sadly, the most grievous examples of the contract of political trust being broken are often perpetrated by those in high places.

Dr Reilly and other national politicians who break their promises should remember that there is always another day for the electorate to adjudicate on their performance.

If they care to read deeper into Matthew’s Gospel they will find other words of weight:

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken.”

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