Tales from the Upper House

In what may be the last Seanad, Galway senator Fidelma Healy Eames writes a weekly blog on the happenings in Ireland’s Upper House.

Austerity, reform, what do these words mean? Check out Roscommon Hospital.

On Wednesday night of last week, just before the nine o’clock news (a key time for political announcements ), outside the gates of Leinster House, Deputies Frank Feighan and Denis Naughten came to meet their masters. The strained expression on both their faces told of the conflicting emotions that ran deep. Inside at the dinner table I learnt that Denis had voted against the Government. Very quickly the full brunt of his decision began to hit home. Man overboard! I heard one senior minister say ‘We just lost one of our children’.

And who wouldn’t feel aggrieved at losing a vital Health service . . . but then, if the service wasn’t safe, was it not a false sense of security anyway. Being a politician is a risky business, ask Denis Naughten. My heart goes out to him, he was faced with a terrible dilemma and he chose to stand with his people. For better or worse Denis will now sit with Ming and company.

Make no mistake about it, we are at a national crossroads. The question is do we continue to do things the same way just to keep people happy or do we reform and save money in the process with the hope that people will be better served in the long-run. For each time we choose the latter, be assured that local people will be unhappy. Yet this is the mandate we got on assuming government in February of this year.

From a Galway perspective, the real concern is, can University Hospital Galway cope with the extra patients coming through? We are fortunate to have a hospital with the throughput and expertise that makes it a key regional hospital. We just need to ensure it can safely cope with the load.

On the other side of the health spectrum, I raised the day before an instance of the black market being alive and well where consultants in a Midland and a Dublin hospital are, I’m informed, seeking cash payments from their patients! Patients are vulnerable. They wait a long time for an appointment and when they get it they are glad to pay up. I’m following up on this lead with the Minister for Health and the hospitals in question.

By week’s end the Seanad had considered and voted through the Medical Practitioners’ Bill which aims to put in place a framework to fill the lack of junior doctors in the hospitals this week. Through a revised continuous practice monitoring, and a two year registration amongst other measures, I hope it will solve the urgent crisis surrounding the shortage of junior doctors.

You could say it was a health-full week in Leinster House.

Except for Wednesay night. Senator Leyden drove home the point that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, in the form of his Registration of Wills Bill. The Bil,l on the face of it, made sense - a central location to record the existence of wills so as to avoid lost wills, delayed and frustrated estates. Minister Joan Burton said she thought it was “Where there’s a will there are relatives’ Bizarrely wills fall under the remit of Social Protection, so it was my responsibility to respond with the Government’s position. Having scrutinised the Bill with the sharp eye of my assistant we found some considerable holes that gave me reason not to support it. In the heel of the reel, the Bill was not a runner largely because it was based on voluntary registration of wills. The Law society gave it a thumbs down, too, for this reason. Succession, Civil Registration Acts and the rules of evidence would all have to be changed. The cost and complexity would defeat the practicality of Senator Leyden’s Bill.

On Saturday, following a morning input at Young Fine Gael’s Summer School in the Meyrick Hotel, I travelled to Dublin with Sean Kyne TD to select Fine Gael’s candidate for the presidential race. There was a mighty buzz with about six hundred people in the room at the Regency Hotel. Readers will be pleased, maybe even somewhat surprised to hear that all three FG Oireachtas members from Galway West – Sean, Brian and myself - voted the same way – we chose Gay Mitchell! For me it was simple. As well as being an amazing vote-getter, he articulated a vision for Ireland that I believe in - the Christian Democratic ideals of Enterprise, Social Justice, Rights and Responsibilities. Even more important, this was not a recently acquired vision, he has always articulated it.

Back down to Galway for Sunday morning’s Commemoration Day, in honour of the Irish men and women who fought under the flag of the United Nations. A poignant ceremony hosted by Galway City Council in the Quad at NUIG, a most suitable venue. It was a very special occasion for those who had served or to remember those who had given service but had sadly passed away. I met two brothers from Rahoon whose brother had died in 1980 at the age of 20.

Sunday afternoon was Family Day at Galway airport aka Galway airport fights back. And what’s wrong with that. A first for the airport, some 6,000 people attended the event. What is it about the public and planes I often wonder. Let’s hope some of this goodwill translates into extra new business for the airport. By contrast a little bit further down the road at Claregalway Castle there were scenes of peace and tranquillity with a unique garden event in aid of CBM, a charity for fighting blindness in the Third World. It was the first time I had heard the Baytones perform, a Galway-based male choral group with many familiar faces. If you need an entertaining male choir for any event, you won’t be disappointed. They would charm the socks off you.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames is Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson for Social Protection and a member of the European Affairs Committee.

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