The debate on the delivery of Public Services in Ireland has some particularly national characteristics, but it must also be seen in its broader international context. Indeed among the right-wing neo-liberal political elite which dominates the USA and most of Europe the very concept of public services is under attack. Education, health, the supply of clean water, or care of the elderly is merely another service from which maximum private profit can be extracted.
It is important to state clearly that there are certain public services which should never be privatised and must remain under public control. The concept of the public good must be reasserted. We must state publicly that illness is not an opportunity for profit, old age is not an opportunity for profit, educational need is not an opportunity for profit.
Politics in Ireland has been steered away from debate on what is in the interests of the public good. The culture fostered is one of unashamed pursuit of individual wealth and the division of society into those who seek to be part of a greedy elite with previously unheard of wealth, and those who are denied access to education, housing and health care and serve in the workforce as poorly skilled and lowly paid.
Our health system is a mess. Everyone now knows how much our service has fallen behind the developed world in recent decades. There are two tiers - one for those who can pay and are treated promptly, and the other for the rest, who must wait. We see trolleys used as beds, fiddled waiting lists, and deadly shortages of key personnel.
There are tens of thousands of decent people in what remains of our public health system. They range from public health van-drivers to specialised endocrinologists, specialists in the cancers and ambulance personnel, who can fight fires and deliver babies. Unfortunately they are fighting a culture, permeating from the cabinet, the department, the HSE which regards patients as customers and the health service merely as one more commodity to be sold to the highest bidder for the maximum profit.
The service needs more than extra beds and extra money, it needs a progressive rethink and a full turnaround within the framework of a clear policy.
The principles that we believe must underlie the new health service are:
The bulk of services must be free to all at the point of use.
The service should be funded from general taxation.
There must be no public subsidising of private health.
Key health personnel must be incentivised back into the public service.
The bedrock of a modern health service must be a free, universally available, publicly funded, and properly resourced primary care system. There must therefore be a national network of primary care centres which not only provide GP services but also provide dental, optical physiotherapy, chiropody, counselling and other services. GP services must be available to all citizens on a 24 hour basis. The primary care centres must also be the focus of health education and disease prevention, and the health service generally must adopt a more holistic and integrated approach to health care.
To this end, the Workers' Party calls for:
The phasing out of all private beds in public hospitals.
The phasing out of tax relief for private health insurance.
The ending of tax relief for the construction of private-profit hospitals.
The total reform of education for all medical personal.
The introduction of proper contracts for all doctors, nurses, and all other medical and support staff employed directly by the HSE or employed in hospitals funded by the HSE.
A substantial pay increase for all clinical (non-medical) personnel, regardless of national agreements.
The swift introduction of a range of other incentives centred on working conditions and facilities.
Services to cancer sufferers are unacceptable and are a social betrayal. Patients are being exposed to life-threatening delays in receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
All acute psychiatric patients to be assessed for their full range of needs, which must be met by or through a HSE charter.
A free annual dental check-up for all.
Free dental service for everyone under 18.
A nationally agreed rate of charges for all routine dental work for all.
The creation of new step-down facilities, convalescent centres, and residential care homes funded and directly operated by the HSE.
The provision by the state of adequate carers' allowances, home-help services, respite care, and rehabilitation services.
The public feel powerless to influence the bureaucracy which makes key decisions about health services on a collective and on an individual level. There is an urgent need to give patients more powers and rights in dealing with officialdom. Therefore we seek:
End the Privatisation of Health Care
Those investing in private health care range from beef baron Larry Goodman and construction chief Bernard McNamara to clerics from the Bon Secours Order.
In 2004 profits at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin increased by 72% to over six million euro, shareholders in the clinic were paid €3.1 million euro in dividends.
Despite profits of this magnitude being made our Government handed out massive subsidies to private companies in the health service.
Private hospitals do not provide emergency cover, do not provide Accident & Emergency services, do not cater for patients with long term needs, do not train nurses or doctors.
The Workers' Party calls for an end to the state subsidies to the gold-mine private medical sector. Those involved in that sector have only one interest and that is maximising profit.
Our programme is based on the needs of the people. The working class has over decades contributed more than its fair share of taxes to fund an efficient and effective health service. It is now time that the vast majority who pay the piper call the tune. It is our aim to fight with trade unions and others for a first class health service for all the people.
How to Build an Equal and Democratic Education System
The education system in the Republic of Ireland involves almost 20% of the population and, with its teachers, special needs assistants, laboratory workers and others, employs over 60,000 people.
Major change has and continues to happen in the education sector. Despite this, many of the problems we identified over twenty years ago continue and in many cases are worse.
Increased participation rates at second and third level mask huge inequality. For example participation rates in university from the large traditional working class areas (eg Dublin postal districts 1, 8, 10) has remained practically static over the last 20 years. Thousands of children leave school annually without even the most basic qualification. Thousands more are part of a rat-race for points which is at best counter-productive and at worst destructive to their educational experience.
Special needs education lacks coherence, planning, and proper implementation. of, or real concern for, the educational needs of these students.
There are hundreds of examples to which we could refer which would highlight the problems and inadequacies of the education system. However there are two over-riding issues which we must address, namely the bureaucracy within the Department and the right-wing ideological assault on the education system and the accepted ideas on education.
The ideological attack on the concept of universal education provided by the state is being waged at many levels. To most people the most visible example of the privatisation of education is the strengthening of the private fee paying sector, the growth of private-profit cramming schools, the burgeoning private third level sector, and the promotion of so-called "Public-Private Partnerships" in the building and maintenance of school buildings.
Furthermore, at both government and EU level, there is a marked shift from a position of education as being a public service to education being a tradable commodity. We see the government's attempts to downgrade and abolish the national network of VECs and the need for the Workers' Party, as a socialist party, to defend and promote the expansion of the VEC concept.
We must defend the potential for democratic control which the VECs offered and oppose the centralisation of the Department and the empire building of the Catholic Church and the Universities.
Both parents, and the wider community, are entitled to openness in the education system. However support for openness cannot ne interpreted as support for the construction of crude comparisions or league tables based on exam results or points achieved by students in the annual "points race". It is not in any way possible to compare a school in a working class suburb, with an open door policy to all potential students to a private fee paying school with multiple barriers to entry merely by comparing the numbers of university entrants they produce each year.
We must oppose the creeping privatisation of education and educational services. We must oppose the imposition of alien business concepts of profitability/viability on education.
The reality of bullying, disruptive activity and anti-social behaviour, which are widespread in society are also a problem in the school system.
Therefore schools must be properly resourced, both in terms of legislation and staffing, to deal with all these problems.
Recognising that pre-school and primary education are the most vitally important we demand:
The provision of a universally available state system of play schools for all children from three to five years old.
A stepped plan over six years to ensure maximum class size of 20 pupils, with appropriate weighting to take account of the integration of students with special needs into mainstream classes.
The provision of adequate special education-needs teachers, special class teachers and, where necessary, special schools, to provide all children across the spectrum of learning disability with the most complete education possible.
The expansion of the school's psychological service.
The ending of the annual points rat race by ensuring sufficient places at third level for high demand courses like law; the introduction of a common entry requirement for all the sciences including medicine; the ending of the total reliance on end-of-year exams by the phased introduction of assessed project work and continuous assessment systems.
A universal grants scheme without any means test.
The abolition of tuition fees for students pursuing third level courses as evening students or as part-time students.
A state funded planning, building and refurbishment scheme to take account of the state's changing demographics.
Support for the development of a secular state-funded system of education. The Bush and Blairite concept of 'faith-based” schools is a recipe for segregation and sectarianism.
The concept of “citizenship” should be promoted within education - as a measure to oppose sectarianism, racism, and xenophobia.
Why Are 50,000 on the Housing List When The State Is Rich?
So why in the year 2006, when government has more money than any government in the past, have we over 50,000 families on the housing waiting list as well as 100,000 people waiting for a home? And at a time when our society is supposed to be organised along the lines of Social Partnership. And a major selling point of Sustaining Progress to workers was the claim that it would tackle the shortage of social and affordable housing.
Now, as the national talks to replace Sustaining Progress draw to an end, there are still 50,000 families on the housing list throughout the state. There are thousands more who cannot afford to buy a home of their own. It is part of the right-wing ideology of the FF/PD coalition that people should drop their expectations that local authorities have a duty to provide housing for those on low income.
And while we accept that many in the trade union leadership want to see the housing problem solved, the direction in which they are leading the movement will not solve the housing crisis. Handing state land to developers and speculators is not the answer. Handing millions of Euro each week to rack-renting landlords and scrooge-like B & B owners is certainly not the solution.
The Workers' Party demands that government provide sufficient Local Authority houses for rent to families or individuals who can not afford to buy their own.
The cost of buying an average home has risen from 102,222 Euro in 1997 to over €300,000 in 2005. While there are a number of reasons for the massive increase in house prices, the government if it wished, could have introduced measures to prevent the profiteering that has taken place over the past number of years in the house-building industry. The government should introduce price control for houses that are for sale on the private market.
While there may have been an argument for tax breaks for investments in the housing industry at times of high unemployment, there is no reason for tax breaks now, at a time when we require thousands of building workers from abroad.
The committee made it clear that the Constitution would not prevent the government from introducing that section of the 1973 Kenny Report which proposed that land zoned for development should not be sold for more than its value plus 25%. The government is keeping its silence as the crisis grows. Since then we have heard nothing from the government on this issue. The speculators and developers seem to have won again.
The Workers' Party demand:
The immediate implementation of the Kenny report on the cost of building land.
That builders must provide a certificate of reasonable value when selling a house.
That the government provide sufficient funds for local authorities to meet the needs of the people on the housing list.
An end to all tax subsidies for second homes - whether these are so-called investment houses for rent or holiday homes.
A certificate from all developers, builders, contractors and sub-contractors that proper rates of pay, pension contributions etc as due under the registered agreement for the building industry have been paid to workers.