The True Cost of Privatization


The CervicalCheck story is an horrific indictment of Irish political culture. Talk about a new low. We saw that there were deaths as a result of throwing housing on the mercy of private landlords and builders, and now there are deaths as a result of throwing healthcare on the mercy of lowest-bidder private concerns.

The Taoiseach said a few days ago saying that the “right heads must roll” when announcing the setting up of the pre-enquiry enquiry. And on the first day of that it emerged that the entire thing was flagged when the Toaiseach was minister for health, but he claims he didn’t see it or wasn’t aware of it.

This is not the first time he has claimed to have been unaware of problematical events taking place in a department he was heading. As minister for social protection he was similarly handicapped when jobseekers were being hounded and criminalized by private employment activation companies.

He has shown as Taoiseach, in his neglect of the homeless crisis, that he is prepared to let people die as the price for re-invigorating the housing market. And now it is revealed that as minister for health he was in a position to prevent the cervical cancer oversights.

It would make you wonder what does a politician have to do to resign in this country? Whatever you might say about Britain and their colonial faults, at least their politicians have the grace to resign from time to time. They have a kind of checkmate place in their system where the only option is to resign. Here, they just bluff it out and in so doing make a mockery of the entire democratic process.

Emma Ni Mathuna, the woman from Kerry whose life is now to be lost as a result of CervicalCheck scandal , said that it was clear to her now that the government are not capable of doing what they are supposed to be doing, basically looking out for us.

The privatization drive emanating from Fine Gael policy has effectively sold out the homeless, sold out the low paid, sold out jobseekers, sold out the private renters, sold out mortgage holders and sold out those women now facing death sentences. And all as a direct result of a privatization process that is awarding contracts for services to the lowest bidders. Some services clearly shouldn’t be privatized as the government was warned years ago in relation to cervical cancer checks.

On RTE’s Primetime programme on Thursday (May 10th) David McCullagh, the Primetime anchor said to a spokesperson from Sinn Fein who had called for the resignation of Pat O’Brien, Well, are you happy now that Pat O’Brien has resigned? Have you got your scapegoat?

This was the first question put. As if a call for the resignation of the person overseeing the scandal is driven by nothing but trivial inter-party point-scoring.

McCullagh seemed to be regarding the issue as just another political football. Or was he asking the question in that manner as a kind of Devil’s advocate, putting the type of question that others might put?

Whatever his reasons, he seemed complacently disconnected from the news of the day where an Irish citizen, a young woman, had just learned that her life is now over as a result of government and HSE mismanagement. Some might be inclined to regard that level of ineptitude and its tragic consequences as amounting to criminal neglect.

But the casual attitude of McCullagh seemed to suggest that he regarded the issue as just one of those things. A bureaucratic  oversight. Some people have died and some more will die, it’s unfortunate, but there you are, life is life and it all goes on and it’s just another Thursday programme and we are really only concerned with how the issue affects inter-party squabbles.

Well it’s not just another story. It’s not a game. Nothing of this tragedy will be improved or “fixed” by the resignation of Pat O’Brien or Leo Varadkar or Simon Harris or the whole government for that matter. In the context of what has occurred political resignations are virtually irrelevant. Death is forever, and premature death of this nature has a sense of forever that is not at all like the death of an elderly person which, in fairness, is most people’s experience of bereavement.

When someone dies prematurely their absence lives for the entire span of what their potential life might have been. They are heart-breakingly absent at all the key moments of their children’s lives. Their absence underscores birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, graduations, engagements, marriages, births and christenings. They are always achingly absent as the years and decades pass. Time behaves peculiarly in matters of bereavement and grief. The death always seems very recent and very raw at such key moments

This raw reality is to be visited on not just one woman and her family, but on countless women and their families over the next few years as each in their turn faces into the terminal illness that is their personal legacy for governmental privatization considerations and cost-cutting in health and social protection. It is likely that each death as it occurs will be noted as another feature of this incredibly sad story.

It often seems that many of our politicians, particularly the ones in the two major parties, really are only it for the generous pensions. Half of them turned up on a rich list in the Sunday Times yesterday. Many of them don’t seem like public servants in the true sense of the term. They seem more like political careerists who, for the most part appear to exclusively serve big business and themselves and their cronies.

As Emma Ni Mathuna said, They don’t look out for us.