The Blanket

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If liberty means anything at all,
it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
- George Orwell



Get In Queue To Get Into A Queue And A Queue To Get Out Again

Anthony McIntyre

The president of Sinn Fein has argued, rightly, that the very least that should happen to tax dodgers is that 'they are declared not fit to hold public office.' It would seem that the ranks of the 'not fit' could swell considerably if the public begin to apply the same logic to duty dodgers and demand answers to the question 'what do members of the Stormont Assembly get paid for?' Do these alleged representatives ever look in the mirror in the morning and momentarily get caught out - experiencing just a twinge of guilt over the 'brown envelope' that is euphemistically called a wage packet? Have they occasionally felt the type of shame they try to instil in those poor who 'do the double' as they, in the splendour of their plush rooms, calculate their extra large expenses bill (always a useful device for schemers 'on the make' to defraud the public purse)?

Anyone watching UTV's coverage of last Tuesday's Assembly debate on cancer services could have amused their kids with a game of 'spot the member'. The place was as empty as a meeting of the 'Politicians For Truth Society'. This at a time when the North's health services are under increasing strain. Had the debate been about, flags, Easter lilies, poppies or silly insignia on the heads of cops the chamber would have been packed and the speaker would have longed for the sunny climes of France again as he struggled to keep 'the suits' apart while they shouted and shammed to outdo each other on 'real' matters. Cancer patients really do worry about peelers' hats you know. And if that could be sorted out then the stress of dealing with their terminal condition would be arrested somewhat. No doubt a Jo Moore type lurking in the corridors of spin with an electronic calculator would be thinking along demographic lines - if more of 'them' have cancer than 'us' then the odds are tipped in 'our' favour.

A sceptic looking at the state of the health service would be excused for thinking the British had handed Sinn Fein a poisoned chalice in allowing the party to administer a section of Britain's ramshackle health service. Some sort of delayed revenge cynically termed 'power sharing' dished out for all the times when republicans were blamed - as they were by Kevin Myers writing in today's Sunday Telegraph - for filling hospital wards 'with the maimed' and ensuring that waiting lists were forever lengthy. Bairbre de Brun is hardly alone in the culpability stakes for the appalling state of the Northern health service. And to her credit she is one of the few government ministers anywhere to have offered a public apology for the state of her department. But neither can she evade responsibility for opting to administer the health equivalent of a political slum on the terms laid down by the British landlord in accordance with capitalist economics. Those who choose to serve in a British centre-right coalition are morally culpable for the actions of that particular body.

Recently, while down in the Royal Victoria Hospital to visit former leader of the H-Block Blanket prisoners, Brendan Hughes, myself and Tommy Gorman were more than a little aghast to find that he had to lie on a trolley in a corridor for over twenty four hours. Even in jail at the worst of times the administration could find him a bed. Bairbre de Brun can not be expected to show Brendan Hughes a favouritism over and above other patients even though he did almost die on hunger strike and served countless years in prison to overthrow the very type of system that we have today. But there was an irony in the whole matter. It is that one of our foremost anti-state activists who fought so long against injustice found himself lying on a trolley when we have a republican in charge of healthcare. And to heap insult onto injury we are brazenly informed by the government party to which the Health Minister belongs that this is real success. The success for Brendan Hughes is that having suffered heart problems he now has to sit and wait, aware of the findings of Deirdre Fitzsimons from the University of Ulster that one in ten cardiac patients die before they get their operation in a healthcare system overseen by a republican. It is the type of success we are familiar with only from reading George Orwell.

At one time the only place for a person to be if they wanted to publicly dissent from Britain's government in the North was in the Provisional Republican Movement. But who now in that movement is publicly interrogating the Health Minister? Who in that movement is informing the public about the appalling healthcare system that the same minister presides over? Anyone tempted to publicly speak out will be made most unwelcome in that movement, maybe even receiving an unfriendly visit from its green shirts.

The greatest irony of all is that the SDLP, Women's Coalition and that subversive bastion of revolutionary politics - the Alliance Party - are now the voice of sharper and more radical opposition against the pathetic nature of state health care than republicans.



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