Sunday, May 20, 2007

Electoral Alzheimer's Strikes Ahern

It's a sad fact that the tragedy that is Alzheimer's disease can strike anyone at any time. The tell-tale signs can be quite subtle at first; the odd lapse of memory, the misplaced fact, the small failure to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Not even high ranking cabinet ministers are exempt from its toll, a fact which emerged today in an interview of sorts with incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern on BBC Radio 4's World at One today.

The programme was covering the progress of the Sinn Fein electoral campaign in the Republic and raised the important question of electoral pacts and alliances. If push came to shove, would either of the major parties consider taking Sinn Fein on board as a possible coalition partner if it meant keeping a hand on the tiller of the ship of state after May 24th?

Speaking for Fianna Fail, the 'other' Republican party, Dermot left the BBC interviewer in no doubt about his party's position by uttering the Louth equivalent of General de Gaulle's famous keep the-Brits-out-of-Europe 'Non!'.

When pressed for an explanation of his firm rejection of a potential alliance with the Shinners, our Dermot cited Bairbre de Brun's activities as Health Minister in the North during the last short period of devolved government up above there. 'We wouldn't be going into a coalition with a party that closes down hospitals,' he said, or words to that effect. When pressed further he repeated his rejection and cited the same grounds as a reason. Forming a coalition with a party that closes hospitals would not be the kind of thing of which Fianna Fail, the other Republic Party either condones or supports.

His firm protestation can only be interpreted as symptoms of some form of degenerative mental condition for two reasons. First, as far as I can discover, de Brun never closed any hospitals down in her brief tenure as Northern Health Minister. There was a decision which she inherited from the Northern Ireland Office on taking up the post regarding the rationalisation of maternity services between the two main Belfast hospitals . Subsequently there was a further report on local health services which recommended the closure of full A&E services in some of the smaller regional hospitals west of the Bann. Again, as far as I could ascertain, any action on her part with regard to this was forestalled by the collapse of devolved government in 2002.

Secondly, I live not 200 metres from Crumlin Children's Hospital which is about to be closed down by Minister Mary Harney of the PDs. These lads, as I recall vaguely, form part of the present governing alliance and come the election may well do so again.In addition, the good people of Monaghan might be very surprised to hear that Fianna Fail would not take kindly to partnering up with a party that closes down regional hospitals given the shenanigans up there the past year.. Only a cynic might suggest that Dermot's emphasis on Sinn Fein's hospital closing proclivities could have something to do with the latter party's success in mobilizing votes around the whole hospital service health care failures of the present regime.

No I prefer the Alzheimer's explanation. It also explains what happened to the issue of Irish neutrality while Dermot's been in the Foreign Affairs chair. He just forgot about it.

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