By Jim O'SullivanWord had hardly hit the grapevine about Roisin Shortall’s resignation when her every image, along with any word she ever uttered or penned, was obliterated from the Labour Party’s website.
“Damnatio memoriae” (condemnation of memory) has just made a scurrilous return. This was the device that tyrants down the ages employed to eradicate the opinions and any lingering influence of those that they feared. After the victim was “disappeared”, all mention of his/her name was forbidden, all written material and all images erased. It was as if the person had never existed.
Roman Emperors were masters of the art where the protection of their dynasty required the eradication of all traces of anyone whose exploits or popularity had turned the heads of the populous. Egyptologists also now agree that there are gaps in the historical record suggesting that the Pharaohs too engaged in the practice---and most likely for similar reasons.
The practice fell away only to be resurrected again by Stalin during the “Great Purge”. Probably Stalin’s most famous victim was Nikolai Yezhov who vanished following a show trial after which all traces of him were airbrushed out of existence. He has the nickname “The Vanishing Commissar” specifically because as part of the “erasure of memory” process his image was chemically removed from all official photos in which he appeared alongside Stalin.
The Russians were not as good at the black art as their former Roman and other ancient dictators however and a famous photo appeared later around the world showing the “before”, with Yezhov’s image intact, and the “after”, from which it had been removed. The common thread in all of this is of course that the objects of “damnatio memoriae” were all perceived as a threat to those in power on the basis of their popularity with the “hoi polloi”.
And so it was with Roisin Shortall. While Yezhov was hardly a shrinking violet, Shortall’s “crime” was to stand by her own and Labour’s principles, to refuse to go along with a healthcare policy that placed providing profit-making opportunities for the deserving above ensuring that services were rolled out on a need basis---a process that, far from ridding us of the vulgar “two tier” system, would in fact copper-fasten it.
The private/public process places “profit” within the system and where that obtains, persons willing to buy preferential treatment will always be accommodated. In addition, care will be more expensive for all of us as not only must the profit of the developer and owner of the facility be paid for so also must the profit of the bank that lent the money to the developer to proceed with construction. The citizen is lumbered with paying rent in perpetuity---but so what, it “only” comes out of taxes and that is there to be exploited.
Involving the additional lair of cost to facilitate profit ought to be avoided and only considered when all other options have been exhausted. Reilly fiddling with the priority list for the roll out of primary care centres shows that providing profit-making opportunities was on a par with other vital consideration---if not bumped up ahead of them.
Of course, what should be happening is that any opportunity to play stroke politics or engage in cronyism should not exist within the health plan. All sites and infrastructure should be owned by the state, they should be rolled out in accordance with evidence based need and those working within them should be required to do so under a strict set of guidelines with specific and particular emphasis on equity of access for all citizens.
Aside from concerns around inequity of access, what must be remembered here too is that the “re-configuration” of services, which basically means the wholesale closing down of local services and centralising them, is predicated on primary care centres being up and running to meet local needs---it is all supposed to be part of an overall plan to deliver healthcare as close to the patients as possible.
By signalling that the plan will accommodate private for-profit involvement all that has succeeded in doing is to hold up the process as vested interests jostle, lobby and use any means to get for themselves the maximum financial benefit while the healthcare needs of the populous is lost in the grasping milieu.
Shortall’s reaction to the whiff of crony politics and the direction that Reilly is forcing healthcare provision in---the discredited US style profit led system --- and her refusal to quietly accept what she regarded as “stroke politics”, rendered her dangerous. Not only was she endeavouring to trammel the exploitative urges of the far right wing of the Fine Gael party, she also sought to enact policies that run counter to the trajectory that the leadership has set the Labour Party on---and that is to remain in power regardless.
Shortall’s Labour principles collided with the catch all amoral politics of the new Labour Party---best referred to for distinguishing proposes as the Official Labour Party. For Shortall the dissident, it was either the nunnery or oblivion and the latter was the option that the politburo knew best.
And that can hardly be surprising after all the current leadership of Official Labour are well versed in the tactics and thinking of Stalin having emerged from a political gene-pool that started out to restore the national territory, eventually came to the view that that was too parochial and looked around for another band-wagon to hitch itself to in order to fulfil acquisitive ambitions.
They dabbled with communism and moved from Sinn Fein to Official Sinn Fein (stickies) and on through a number of other re-modellings, Sinn Fein The Workers Party, The Workers Party, Democratic Left, until they inveigled their way into the Labour Party, a party that by then was famous for allowing in all varieties of strays and self-seeking opportunists. In no time at all they became the worm in the rose.
Their avid ambitions were emboldened by what they saw of what life was like within the political establishment from their position hanging around the edges of it. They got haircuts, donned the uniform of the political establishment---the shiny suit---and promptly ditched any vestiges of socialism that might have lingered.
Appearing to be all things to all men was a necessary expediency on the road to the leathered chairs, fat pay cheques, bloated expenses and the “Euro millions” pensions. Rather than being a party of the red flag, Official Labour quickly became, to paraphrase a title in vogue, the party of “50 Shades of Pink”---or whatever colour you’re having yourself.
One story illustrates that while they may have successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of many, they were fooling few of their peers in the Dail. When a debate was in full swing following one of Charlie McCreevy’s infamous “tax cutting for the wealthy” budgets, Eamon Gilmore made an eloquent speech about inequity, unfairness and injustice.
When Gilmore sat down following his exhausting efforts on behalf of the downtrodden, Mary Harney rose to her feet and replied, tongue in cheek, that she would leave it to Mr. Gilmore, when next in power, to raise the taxes again....and was then heard to whisper an aside as she lowered herself to her seat, “and all hell will freeze over first” Harney was not up to much else, but she could spot a spoofer at a thousand paces.
Nothing has changed---or looks like doing so any time soon. And if there was any doubt about that, the replacing of Roisin Shortall with Alex White consigns any such doubts to the realms of wishful thinking. A North Dublin inner city representative replaced with another from Ireland’s most affluent constituency, Dublin South. Will Alex White fight for a one tier healthcare system free from exploitation by speculators and money-grubbers given his background? ---in your dreams.
Roisin Shortall has taken a stand; she has demonstrated that there are people about the place willing to do the right thing by their principles---maybe it’s time that the Labour Party was taken back and all the interlopers ousted with the aims of the founding fathers re-instated and given pre-eminence again. She could take the opportunity to be mischievous---and pointed--- by calling the new party, in opposition to Official Labour, the Provisional Labour Party.
But no need to join in playing silly games Roisin---the Real Labour Party will do just fine.