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State of health services overshadowed Bertie’s reign – Ó Caoláin

23 April, 2008

Speaking on Bertie Ahern's final dayin the Dáil as Taoiseach this morning Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD wished the outgoing Taoiseach peace and contentment in his retirement but said the disastrous state of our health services has overshadowed his role as head of Government for over a decade.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Ba mhaith liom mo dea-ghuí pearsanta a chur chun an Taoiseach agus é ag éirí as oifig. Is léir go bhfuil moladh tuillte aige as ucht a ndearna sé chun próiséas na síochána a chur chun cinn agus chun Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta a chur le chéile. Bhí sé i measc siúd a bhí chun tosaigh ag cruthú ré nua síochánta sa tír seo. Níl an obair sin thart go fóill.

"I join in the personal good wishes to the Taoiseach as he prepares to participate in his last session of Taoiseach's Questions here in the Dáil. I have been participating in Taoiseach's Questions since my election in 1997. I commend the Taoiseach on his courtesy which was consistent over the years. His claritywas a different matter but if we crossed swords on many occasions it was never personalised.

"The outgoing Taoiseach's contribution to the development of the Irish Peace Process was very significant and deserves full acknowledgement. He built on the work of his predecessor Albert Reynolds and played a key role in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. We have a consolidated peace process and a developing all-Ireland political process. That will require continuing commitment from all of us and renewed energy from Bertie Ahern's successor.

"I am not going to participate in a charade this morning and try to separate the departure of a Taoiseach from consideration of the record of the Governments he has led over the past 11 years.

"I repeatedly called on the outgoing Taoiseach to resign primarily because of the disastrous state of our health services over which he has presided. That failure has overshadowed Bertie Ahern's role as head of government for over a decade. He and his Governments have failed completely to deliver an equitable and efficient and truly reformed public health service.

"I listened to the Taoiseach's reply to Deputy Kenny's Leader's Question yesterday and I wondered how it was that you had become so disconnected from the reality faced by so many of our citizens today. How it was that you had turned your back on the people of Monaghan and elsewhere and had never visited our beleaguered hospital or had shown an iota of care for the plight of those who have depended on its services.

"We see the results all around us and as the Taoiseach leaves office patients in the public health service are again suffering from HSE cutbacks that hurt the old, the sick and the disabled. Our local hospital network is being devastated. Pharmacists are pulling out of state medicine schemes. The public health system is being allowed to crumble while the Government promotes the private for-profit health business. Tomorrow morning Minister Harney will officially open a Private Health Conference with participants paying over €500 per head to attend. On 24th April 1916 we had the Proclamation. On 24th April 2008 we have privatisation.

"The stepping down of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach will mean little if it does not prompt a new direction in Government policy. That would require a beginning to the delivery of a truly equitable health service, prioritising education and other public services and abandoning the privatisation agenda. The departure of Minister Harney along with Bertie Ahern would help but it not would be enough in itself. What we need is a change of policy.

"The departure of the outgoing Taoiseach is the end of an era in terms of political personalities. He was, in his own terms and that of his party, extremely successful. But only a fundamental realignment in Irish politics, ending the domination of conservative parties, can bring about real change.

"I wish the outgoing Taoiseach peace and contentment in the years before him." ENDS

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