There are two remarkable stories in the news at the moment, entirely unrelated and yet both illustrating the grovelling nature of the Irish psyche.
The first is the appalling HIQA report on Irish hospitals which shows that even our most senior consultants lack the humility to wash their hands between visits to patients. It seems that a gigantic amount of points in the Leaving Cert imbues these individuals with near-magical powers to kill bacteria by their personal wonderfulness. And it also shows how different the Irish medical hierarchy is from the British, or indeed from any other similar body in the world.
I don’t have the figures to hand, but as far as I know, Irish hospital consultants are paid more money than anyone else in their field, anywhere. Not only that, but from — admittedly anecdotal – sources, they retain the imperious, condescending attitude, not only to their medical colleagues, but also to their patients who, in many instances, are paying their fees.
This does not happen in Britain.
Irish medical consultants embody the elitism that underpinned the Irish Free State. Scions of an elite bred to look down on everyone else, they continue to resist change and seem immune from the notion that they might ever be wrong about anything. They have as much sense of entitlement as any dole scrounger but are utterly immune from criticism.
Let me finesse that a little. Not all Irish consultants adhere to this mindset, with the outstanding example in my mind being Professor John Crown, an iconoclast who has never flinched from attacking the established norms.
One way or another, despite their endless years studying medicine, followed by more years pursuing their specialty, the consultants don’t seem to have learned one simple little lesson that most of us picked up from our parents before we were five years old. Wash your hands.
Why is it that these astoundingly talented, intellectually turbo-charged achievers are unable to internalise this simple little truth? Wash your hands and you won’t pass disease to other people.
How does the HSE respond? Apparently, they’re going to appoint specialised nurses to challenge these masters of the medical universe.
Very good. After nearly a century of nurses being intimidated by consultants, and not long after a nurse was pilloried for exposing Michael Neary, the woman-butcher, they still think that an employee on €40 thousand can successfully challenge another part-time employee who gets €200k from the HSE and maybe twice that in private practice, facilitated by the public hospital he uses as his private office.
Show me your hands.
The HSE’s response to the HIQA report shows exactly why the Irish health service is in the state we find it. Vested interests, men (mostly) suffering from a psychological disorder, the God Complex, and an administrative structure still rooted in the deferential 50’s. Meanwhile, non-consultant hospital doctors are voting to take industrial action because of the savage hours they’re expected to work, endangering their own health and that of their patients.
Welcome to Ireland, and welcome to deferential, forelock-tugging gobshitery.
If you wanted an example of such gobshitery, you need hardly look further than the seaside town of Kilkee, in Clare.
Back in 1961, due to a delay in flights, Ché Guevara spent a night in this charming little place. History doesn’t record what he did during this brief visit, but no doubt he took the air, walked the beach and perhaps enjoyed a brew in one of the wonderful hostelries. One way or another, he somehow managed to bump into a local artist, Jim Fitzpatrick, who later went on to design the album covers for Sinéad O Connor, Thin Lizzy and The Darkness. As a result of that meeting, Fitzpatrick produced an image of Che Guevara that became a worldwide icon, ending up on countless tee-shirts and innumerable student walls.
Like any small seaside town, as you might expect, Kilkee decided to capitalise on the visit by a world-famous figure, and in recent years has run the Ché do Bheatha festival. Non-Irish speakers might not get the joke. It seemed appropriate to run a festival based on a world-famous figure with Irish roots. Somebody painted a mural on the wall at the end of the beach where figures like Richard Harris played handball. It was a faithful reproduction of Fitzpatrick’s famous image, and it looked all right, if a little hackneyed. Authentic art by a local artist. It stayed in place for a couple of years and so things rested until recently.
The Independent carries a report that might or might not be accurate. We don’t know that yet, but we do know the outcome. According to the Indo, an organ not known for being scrupulous about facts, it has to be said, a busload of American tourists took offence at the image and decided to leave the town of Kilkee without spending a single dollar. Now, this in itself is a bit of a conundrum, since Ché Guevara never had any involvement with the USA and therefore it would be hard to see how these holidaymakers took offence, but there the story stands. These blue-rinsed benefactors didn’t like the picture and that’s that. Who they complained to is not clear, but one way or another, some official in Clare County Council seems to have taken the cue. And even though the decision had already been taken to leave the mural in place for another few weeks until the Ché Guevara festival was finished, somebody decided to send in Council workers to obliterate the mural on the wall on the beach.
What’s the connection, you might be wondering? What on earth does Ché Guevara have to do with doctors who don’t wash their hands?
Grovelling. That’s the answer. Some official in Clare County Council paints out a picture because a bunch of American geriatrics don’t like it and the HSE appoints powerless nurses to challenge the men with the God Complex.
That’s Ireland for you. That’s why we are where we are.
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