Is health really an issue in election 2011?
With jobs and the economy top of the election 2011 agenda, is health really a concern for voters and candidates in this election?
Health tends to come high up voters’ priority lists but its definitely not top this time. Of course, its jobs, economy, bank bail out.. And while there is lots of rhetoric on health, we have yet to see much of the detail from political parties and candidates.
This is different to before when health caused and influenced the election. Compare it to the 1987, when the FF slogan ‘health cuts hurt the old the sick and the handicapped’. In 1989, a health issue – the compensation for people infected with haemophilia through infected blood products caused the Fianna Fail government to fall and resulted in them going into coalition for first time with PDs. In the 2002 election, health was a big issue with five ‘health’ candidates elected. And Fianna Fail/PDs went to the country in 2002 saying the economy is booming, we have a new health strategy under the stewardship of Micháel Martin, re-elect us and we will implement it. And they were successful, they got re-elected but failed to implement the vast majority of the recommendations in the health strategy.
Yet none of the health candidates go re-elected in 2007, when health fell off the election agenda. And there is some renewed interest in health this time round, despite the focus on the economy with some health specific candidates.
Conor MacLiam, husband of Susie Long is running in Carlow Kilkenny for Socialist party and the United Left Alliance under a ‘Healthcare for all, not for profit’ ticket. MacLiam has campaigned since Susie’s death specifically for a hospice in Carlow/Kilkenny and access to diagnosis in St Lukes.
James Breen is running as an independent in Clare. Breen is an ex Fianna Fail local candidate, he was then elected in 2002 as independent but lost his seat in 2007 and is running again this time round, campaigning for retention of services in Ennis hospital.
What’s common to these campaigner is that they are largely hospital campaigners rather than running on a health policy platform. Ming Flanagan, an independent in Roscommon has been very active on ‘saving the local hospital’. Mattie McGrath – ex Fianna Fail – one of the four FFers outside of party whip in last government is running again in South Tipp and has been big on saving services in local hospitals. Joe Behan, who resigned on the removal of medical cards for over 70 years olds is running again as independent in Wicklow. Eamon Scanlon is running in Sligo on a FF ticket. Common to all of these is that they are running in areas where hospitals are being reconfigured or cancer services have been removed.
Another common theme is ex-independents who have joined political parties. Jerry Cowley, an elected independent between 2002- 07, but lost in 07, is now running for Labour in Mayo. Liam Twomey, Wexford, another ex independent elected 02-07 is now running for Fine Gael.
Dr John Hilary, son of President John Hilary running for Fianna Fail in Clare. He was in the news on 2 February when he was canvassing in Ennis with Michael Martin. They were quizzed by local and media on Ennis hospital and Martin’s promise as minister in 2002 that Ennis would not be down graded. Hilary subsequently issued a press release looking for a review of hospital services in the mid-west. This shows the pressure they are feeling locally as the local hospital is a big issue on the ground.
Senator Phil Prendergast, a former member of Workers and Unemployed Action Group, is running for Labour in Tipperary South, same constituency as Mattie McGrath. Prendergast is high profile member of Irish Nurses Organisations, and although she’s not running on a health specific ticket but that’s what her credentials are locally. She is one of the few women running on a health ticket, not surprising given v low representation of women, just 15% of all candidates.
Another woman running is Betty Holmes, an activist in Donegal North Action for Cancer Care, running very specifically on a health ticket and getting cancer services for Donegal. And there are lots of left candidates running that have health as part of their platform. These include SWP/PBP’s Joan Collins and Richard Boyd Barret who are very active on the retention of services in Cherry Orchard, Ballyfermot and St Michaels in Dun Laoghaire.
There are also a bunch of independents who have health as part of their campaigns and very clear thoughts on the type of health service we should have Eamon Walsh in Galway West, John Hyland in Dublin Central, Marcus de Brun in Dublin North running under ‘health reform now’ ticket wanting to pay doctors less, drive down costs, much more publicly oriented health system.
But we have yet to see the meat on the political parties’ health proposals. So far Fianna Fail has no health policy and has not had since 2004 when Mary Harney went into the health ministry. Greens have none since they abandoned their health policies to go into government with Fianna Fail. Fine Gael has a well-publicised health policy since 2009 but promised lots more detail which has not materialised 18 months on. Labour has not published a health policy since 2001. Sinn Fein have no new health policy since before the last election in 2007.
Hopefully the details will emerge in the next three weeks so that there is time to discuss the policy content and get away from the consistent focus on spin, polls and leaders’ debates. we badly need a national debate on the type of health service we want and the type of society we want to live in…