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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 20, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

    What a mess

    Harry McGee

    When you are writing a news story there is always going to be hyperbole. But when it comes to over-the-top reporting, all newspapers are equal but some newspapers are more equal to others.

    There was general agreement that the Budget proposal to scrap the automatic medical card for over 70s was a mess and had severely damaged the Government.  Reporters used the word ‘mess’. But it was the more suggestive cliches they pulled out of the top drawer (oh! what a clever sentence that was!). Thus we saw ‘blunder’, ‘fiasco’ ‘cock-up’, full-blown crisis, and even ‘monumental cock-up’ and a couple of dozen more.

    And so when Brian Cowen, in two amazingly long and amazingly over-convoluted RTE intervies, announced that the scheme that was proposed wasn’t going to be the one that would come into operation in January. What was that? Sure, it was a concession and a modification of stance. But was it a climbdown, or a reverse, or a compromise, or one big juicy humiliating embarrassing U-Turn. It depended on the newspaper.

    Everyone will evaluate the scale of the concession in their own way. What was certain was taht Cowen did not have his finest hour over the past week. His interview on the Nine News on RTE on Friday was terrible. And his half-hour stint with Gerald Barry on This Week yesterday wasn’t great. He seems to have swallowed the civil servant manual whole. Karl Rove once said that if you are explaining you are losing. And he spent all his time explaining.

    The purpose of the interviews was simple. He had to say the following. The scheme will change because it’s clear that people weren’t happy with it. However, we do need to end automatic entitlement to credit cards because it has the potential to bankrupt the country. Our approach is changing. We are hoping to engage with doctors to see if they are willing to accept a reduction in the ludicrously high fees that they get for over 70s – some of them make €200,000 per annum from pensioners alone.

    He did say that but spent an awful long time saying it and used some brutal technical language (“within the budgetary parameters”) that made no sense. The name of the game was to allay the concerns, of his backbenchers and of ordinary citizens. It could have been done simpler, more directly.

    Having said that, what it was was a retreat. With his own backbenchers in open revolt, Cowen’s hint at wiggle room and possible solutions on Friday night wasn’t enough to defuse the situation. For country TDs, Saturday is clinic today. And they found themselves under siege from an army of pensioners and their relatives, fearful of being abandoned by the State. Cowen spent all day Saturday in his constituency (he even went to a performance of Waiting for Godot in Birr that night) but it was becoming evident that he needed to do more.

    He was supposed to pre-record his This Week interview from Athlone on Saturday. But with a fluid situation, a decision was taken that he would do it live the following day. With his backbenchers in turmoil, Cowen had no choice really but to take the very serious decision of postponing his State trip to China for two days, so that he could attend the FF parliamentary party meeting.

    The compromise, climbdown or whatever is just not enough. It lacks details. The means test will still be there. Nobody knows what the thresholds will be. Will the IMO talk to the Government? Can the IMO talk to him without running foul of the Competition Authority? Did nobody foresee the consequences of this? Obviously not as the Department of Health had zero information available about the proposal for a full 30 hours AFTER the Budget.

    Bad judgement all round. Liveline led with it before the Budget was announced. That should have been a fair warning. There’s a parlimentary party meeting tomorrow night, where Cowen will ask for – and receive – the loyalty of his party. The Government will win the vote on the Fine Gael private members motion on medical cards, when it comes to the vote on Wednesday night.

    But what it will more difficulty with is the public protest that has emanated from Joe Duffy’s Liveline, that will take place outside the gates of the Dáil on Wednesday. The sight of thousands of protesting pensioners will provide toxic propaganda to the opposition.

    What a horrible mess.

    • John OBrien says:





    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, it would seem that the government is adopting the FG idea of more use of generic drugs. Will anyone in the government mention this I wonder? Also it is quite possible that this rowback will end up not saving the Government the 100million they estimated, add the fact that if they exempt those on the minimum wage from the levy it will cost them about 150 million. A hundred million here, a hundred and fifty million there and soon we’ll be talking about real money! Where’s Noel Dempsey when you need him.


    • An Fear Bolg says:

      Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Budget fiasco, the media needs to point out the pathetic behaviour of the toerag TDs that resigned/withdrew support (e.g. Finian McGrath). If it’s such a matter of principle why did these people vote for the budget in the Dáil and only withdraw support when it was safe to do so?

      Do any of the politicians in this country have a spine between them? Healy-Rae was ranting and raving on 5-7 Live yesterday about constituents believing the means test would apply to their pension. So now we have to pander to the incorrect assumptions of idiots? This is exactly what politicians did during Lisbon – “people are saying we’ll have abortion, armies, etc.; I know we won’t but this is what people are saying”.

      Politicians are not supposed to be mere mouthpieces of whatever loon or village idiot pops down the pub on a Saturday to get a few things off their chest – they are also supposed to lead their communities and represent, explain and justify their party’s policies.

    • s mc says:

      Here is another HSE fact and a total waste that no one has mentioned or knows about much:

      In the UK and USA, when the medical/ surgical consultants who are on holidays, the colleagues cross cover each other, which means that the consultants adjust their clinical activities and help each other out with the workload without compromising patient care or cost.

      But here is the interesting part:

      In Ireland and the HSE, the hospitals hire locum consultants for the period of 6 weeks when the consultants are off on holidays and the cost for the locum cover is between €4000 to €6000 per week per person and you can see how much it may cost the tax payers and the HSE.

      If there are between 300 to 500 consultants in the country and they are off for 6 weeks, then 300 x6 =1800 weeks. Now, 1800 weeks x €5000= €9000000.

      That is nearly €10 million a year that is spent on hiring locum consultants when in any other country, including America and the next door NHS in the UK the consultant physicians cross cover each other.

      I am not sure how the hospitals and the HSE can justify this amount of waste that seems to be unique practice in Ireland.

      S MC

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