Royal visit a real success
AS PREDICTED, the royal visit was an outstanding success. It provided a century of ' catch up' in the real relationships between respective communities on both sides of the Irish Sea. Dignified, respectful, solemn commemoration of the past was accorded at the Garden of Remembrance, Croke Park and Islandbridge. Most of us were proud to be Irish. Civic institutions of Defence Forces & Office of Public Works and the GAA distinguished themselves.
Full credit must go to Mary McAleese. The Office of the Presidency has been derided as an unnecessary trinket like the Seanad - accused of being without purpose or power. Our Head of State embodied our full equality of nationhood. Her warm relationship with Queen Elizabeth II was clearly evident.
One sad scar on the entire proceedings was the disgusting disorderly mob of protesters in north inner city Dublin. Violent scenes, only be controlled by Gardaí in full riot gear, were a national disgrace. This manic mob is prisoner of the past. Hostages of history offer nothing for the future of our people, North or South. They sought to hijack our democratic institutions and tarnish an enhanced international image.
The fall out of their mindless hostility and aggression was to ensure a security clamp down. This deprived tens of thousands of ordinary citizens the opportunity to welcome our historic guests. It was a great pity those who wanted to express warm greetings were denied through barrier control and restricted access. Effective security measures did provide proper protection for the Royals, but at the expense of sterile streetscapes.
David Cameron and William Hague's presence suggests official British Government thinking may be evolving onto a new phase of Anglo Irish relations. Successive UK Governments reiterated they have no strategic or selfish interest in Northern Ireland. As long as a majority in the six counties wish to remain part of the Union, they will be accommodated. In the coming decades, demographic balance between Unionists and Nationalists may shift with a Nationalist majority.
I sense an underlying message from London that goes beyond good neighbourliness and trade development. Costs of state subvention to maintain the North are onerous. They may anticipate burden sharing on a cross border basis. A new model of joint sovereignty may emerge incrementally as a sectarian thaw matures into normalised politics. As with Hong Kong and other past colonies, British mandarins anticipate a slow pace of change. Are seeds of constitutional reform are being planted as well as ceremonial trees?
The life of Dr. Garret Fitzgerald was commemorated at Sunday's state funeral with generous appropriate acclaim. He was a truly remarkable Irish statesman. Despite an indomitable intellect, he was a humble and modest man. In his prime he displayed incredible energy and enthusiasm. His nationwide election tours in the 1980s were conducted at hectic speed - a man on a mission to modernise Ireland. He was ahead of his time. Many of his initiatives were only implemented after he retired from parliamentary politics.
His dedicated devotion to his late wife Joan, children and grandchildren was not publicly visible. I recall in the 1980s, as part of the FG delegation to the New Irish Forum, being in his house for preparatory meetings. Joan (who died in 1999) suffering severe illness with her legs, was bedridden at the time. Despite being Taoiseach, he wanted to provide her care. Frequently, she would call out his name. All proceedings were instantly interrupted. Their basement apartment was frugal. Each room surrounded wall to wall with books, provided him with constant reading and learning.
Garret's legacy? His overriding vision was to facilitate reconciliation between North and South. He not only acknowledged the reality of partition on the island, but believed the principle of consent by one million northern Unionists was a prerequisite to political progress. Amendment of Articles 2 & 3 of the Constitution and establishment of a devolved interparty government in Belfast were key components of his architecture of the late 1970s. The model of the abortive Sunningdale Agreement with power sharing administration is now being operated by the DUP and Sinn Féin. Axis of the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 compelled Unionists to reappraise their monopoly of power.
Garret's constitutional crusade in the republic was centred on separating church and state. Overriding influence of church teaching on social legislation was the focus of reform. It is now unthinkable only married couples could access contraception or that a doctor's prescription would be obligatory for condoms. He believed the best protection of marriage was the availability of divorce, with rights to remarry. His campaigns were rigorously resisted by the hierarchy and Fianna Fáil. History books will acknowledge he was a foremost feminist, always promoting a greater role for women in Irish society.
As Fine Gael leader, his role was unique. Origins of the party were rooted in civil war traditions of Cumann na nGaedheal. When elected leader in 1977, these intergenerational loyalties were abating and of diminishing relevance. He created a new political dynamic that attracted a new cohort of members, with no past affiliations. This culminated in 70 FG TDs being elected in November 1982. I was amongst more than 20 newcomers, with no FG family background. Alan Shatter, Nuala Fennell, Gemma Hussey and Alan Dukes had no previous party pedigree. This infusion of parliamentarians sustained FG up to Enda Kenny's success in February. Without Garret, FG could have withered on the vine.
His passing is deeply mourned by his many friends and multitude of admirers. Deepest sympathy to Mark, John, Mary and their extended families. May he rest in peace.
CHANGE AT THE CHEMIST
I recently chaired an event at the inaugural National Pharmacy Conference of the IPU, representing 1,600 pharmacies around the country. 420,000 people visit a chemist every week. 1.3ml medical card patients obtain medicines under the GMS, while 1.5ml private patients obtain refunds under the Drugs Payment Scheme. Pills and potions are big business. Tax payers expend €2.4bn on drugs this year. HSE and Government have battled with pharmacists and drug companies to reduce costs down from €3.3bn.
Over recent years previous restrictions on who can establish a pharmacy have been lifted. The Pharmacy Act 2007 deregulation of the market resulted in one pharmacy per 2,800 people -c compared to an EU average ratio of one per 5,100. High rents and health cuts are hurting high street chemists. They advocate alternative savings through obliging GPs to prescribe cheaper generic ( unbranded) drugs. They allege widespread wastage of medicines. The introduction of Reference Pricing would mean that patients are surcharged where unit prices of drugs exceed a base level.
Most interesting topic for me was potential of pharmacists to expand their role in the healthcare system. This could mean services could be done in a consulting room of a pharmacist rather than with your local general practitioner. Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly emphasises primary care must be promoted as a cheaper policy option. Cholesterol & blood pressure testing, diabetes and cardiovascular screening and helping patients to manage chronic illnesses are all being actively sought. This could mean saving the €60 cost of a trip to the doctor.
In Europe it is common place to facilitate through community pharmacist practices such as Repeat Dispensing, Emergency Contraception, Hypertension Management and Homecare Services. Maybe the next health row will not be between Minister and lobby group, but rather between the IMO and the IPU.