My column in The Kerryman. 6 November, 2013

I’m rather fond of politics, that’s why I write this column. The things that politicians do, why they do them and the results of those actions fascinate me. In certain company that makes me very dull indeed. Though if you want boredom, you should hear me go on about Lord of the Rings.

My dullness extends as far as political philosophy and the really interesting thing about political philosophy, is that there’s so little of it here. Take for example the Government’s decision to provide free GP care to all children under five years of age. If a political philosopher was told about this provision, but didn’t know anything else about Ireland, the philosopher would react in one of two ways.

If the philosopher was right wing, he or she would wail about the destruction of society. If the philosopher was from the left, then the wailing would be about the citizens still denied free GP care. Then they’d both argue about how this care should be paid for and how a health system is best organised.

This left versus right argument happens in most democracies, but not here.

The use of the terms left and right to describe political beliefs, originated during the French Revolution. In their Assembly the moderates would sit to the right of the Speaker and the radicals to the left. After every purge, the radicals would move to the right, replacing the beheaded moderates. The radicals themselves would be replaced by even more radical radicals.

Broadly speaking today, those on the left prefer higher taxes to pay for services provided to citizens. The right prefer low taxes and citizens paying their own way.

In Ireland this left right way of looking at the world never really caught on, as things like nationalism, Catholicism and mass emigration got in the way. Meaning that in 2013 we still can’t even decide on how to decide about what kind of health system we want.

Let’s for example examine my wish list for the health system. I want to always be able to access the best care available. I don’t want to die just because I’m poor. If I can afford health insurance, I don’t want to pay the high taxes needed to make sure the poor don’t die just because they’re poor. I want old people to have a choice between home help, full time care in their own home and access to affordable quality residential care, and I want that to happen in time for my old age. And I think the health system is best run by the private sector, but their profit motive has to be muzzled.

Now imagine being the politician who has to try making sense out of that kind of contradictory and self-serving bullshit. I’m smart enough to know that if a politician agrees with me on this, they’re not worth voting for.

We need to start at the very beginning. Ask this one question; should everyone, without exception, be entitled to the best health care this country has to offer? It’s the ‘without exception’ principal which will define the system. It’s the left right divide boiled down to its most simple parts. Answer this question then all else will become mere detail.

Kerry Column 12

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