Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Contentious co-location sections must be removed from Health Bill - Ó Caoláin

18 December, 2007


Speaking tonight in the Dáil on the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin stated Sinn Féin cannot support the Bill as it stands unless the Government removes the sections it has inserted which are designed to facilitate its contentious hospital co-location plans.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"It is extraordinary that on the penultimate day of this Dáil session we have been presented with such a piece of emergency legislation.

"We are told that concerns were first raised in the context of establishing the new National Paediatric Hospital during the past summer. It has also been stated that, separately, the Minister for Health and Children was provided with legal analysis on June 22nd that suggested there might be complications related to the co-location of private hospitals in the grounds of St James's and Beaumont.

"Who provided this legal analysis? Was it sought by the Minister? Did it arise during the tendering process for the co-located private for-profit hospitals? Was it an issue raised by one of the companies tendering for these very lucrative contracts?

"The Opposition has sought access to the Minister's legal advice. The Attorney General states in a letter to the Minister on the same date that the advice is privileged and should not be released.

"Whilst we must allow the Government some leeway to protect the 19 existing bodies established under the 1961 Act. However, the unanswered questions I have raised do need to be addressed.

"The other major element of this Bill cannot and will not be supported by Sinn Féin. That is the extension of the powers to the Boards of St. James's and Beaumont Hospitals in order to facilitate the Government's infamous private for-profit hospital co-location plan.

"It is ironic that the first reference in legislation to co-location should come in a Bill which is designed to protect the State from a constitutional challenge on the grounds that an Act of the Oireachtas gives powers to the Minister that is too wide-ranging.

"We have never had a thorough debate on co-location. There has been no co-location legislation. Yet this is a very significant change in our healthcare and hospital system, a change that reinforces the two-tier nature of that system and that swings State policy very definitely towards privatisation. Yet no Oireachtas approval was sought for co-location.

"Surely the lesson from the situation that led to this Bill is of the danger that arises when the power of Ministers and the Cabinet is taken too far. We have on many occasions raised concerns about Bills in which extensive powers are given to Ministers by means of ministerial orders. The role of the Oireachtas in democratic decision-making and scrutiny of legislation has been weakened.

"The government and this Minister's record on accountability are lamentable. It has established the Health Service Executive as a buffer against accountability in two directions - from Oireachtas members and from communities.

"The Government has signalled its refusal to remove the sections it has inserted in this Bill which are designed to facilitate co-location. The Bill in its Schedule proposes to amend Ministerial orders and give them legislative force. This will mean giving powers to the Boards of St. James's and Beaumont to proceed with co-location. Therefore Sinn Féin cannot support the Bill.

"Co-location has been opposed across the political spectrum and across the health services. It is driven not by patient need but by private profit. It will reinforce the public-private apartheid in our two-tier healthcare system.

"The Government is abusing the good will of the Opposition by introducing into this Bill these measures to facilitate co-location. Therefore we cannot support the Bill as it stands unless the Government is prepared to remove the offending sections and I have tabled Committee Stage amendments to do so. I urge the Government to support those amendments." CRÍOCH

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