Children’s Hospital debacle more akin to Versailles than Angola

Minister Simon Harris...in the eye of the storm.
Minister Simon Harris...in the eye of the storm.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Brian Cowen will probably be best remembered for a one-word description he gave for what it was like to be Minister for Health. “Angola.”   A lot of people thought that he was describing the actual condition of health services; that it was like a third world country. The truth is there is no comparison between here and developing countries.

Cowen was actually referring to the civil war in Angola in the 1970s. He said that when he got up each morning and went out, you were never sure if you were just about to step on a landmine.

Simon Harris fully understands the concept after the roughest week of his young Ministerial life. Not only was he in the deep soup over the Children’s Hospital, but the nurses and midwives were also on strike and threatening a hugely disruptive 72-hour stoppage this week.

And to top it all, a small number of protesters paraded outside his home in Greystones, Co Wicklow on Sunday, despite the fact that Harris and his wife have a three-week old infant in the house.

At least for that, he elicited some sympathy – but it was in short supply elsewhere.

Whatever his defence in the nurses’ dispute, when it came to the spiralling costs of the National Children’s Hospital, he was on sticky ground.

Am I with the nurses? I think there is case to be made for pay parity with other degree professionals like physiotherapists but would also mean a quid pro quo, taking on more responsibility and obligations. And what happens to the huge tranche of nurses who don’t have degrees?

The average pay for an Irish nurse is €57,000 per annum, including allowances and overtimes – higher than most European countries. There are a few Anglophone countries, such as Australia, where the pay is higher but the boom in the Antipodes is coming to an end and that might not be the case for ever.

Like all other public servants they have a guaranteed pension, which is a lump sum of one a half times final salary (for those in before 2011) tax free, plus half the salary. In the private sector, such a pension in unimaginable.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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