I sympathise with Deputy Flaherty. I, too, wait around this House for many hours, sometimes longer than anybody else, to be allowed to speak. Sometimes the rules of the House work against me as much as anybody else. I have to take my medicine.
In this context I am pleased to have the right to speak here today, to make my protest against the health cutbacks. It is the democratic right of Deputies like myself to be allowed to speak in this House and to have our voices heard. It is also the right of people to protest peacefully on the streets against these cutbacks. Democracy is a two-fold exercise in this context. People such as myself in this House should speak out loudly and clearly on this issue and the people outside the House who are opposed to these health cuts should do likewise and should march in support of their case. These cutbacks are not only cutbacks on jobs but they are a violent assault on vulnerable people such as the sick and the poor. They are also an assault on health workers, not only on nurses and doctors but also on tradesmen and others operating in the service. They have all been targeted in terms of the cutbacks in health services.
Lower paid workers will be among the first casualties of the cutbacks and the poor will suffer most of all. Socialists like myself cannot stand by and allow this to happen without opposing these cuts on all fronts. Not only the people in this House but also the nurses' trade unions and the entire trade union movement should fight these cuts. The politicians and parties should not be let off the hook on this issue. I hold no brief whatsoever for Deputy Barry Desmond, indeed I had many disagreements with him and his party both inside and outside this House but not one health board worker lost his or her job while Deputy Desmond was Minister for Health. At least that can be said in his favour.
He also tried to do something about controlling the power and the wealth of consultants within the health service but sadly, he got very little help from anyone in the House or from the trade union movement. Consultants are faring very well from the health services. I do not see much sharing in that area. Consultants and doctors speak a great deal about the sanctity and the privacy of the relationship between themselves and their patients. That privacy is often very profitable for them. The consultants have the best of two worlds; they have the very best of the VHI service and also of the public health service through the health boards. Among themselves consultants have a saying, that these hospitals are milking parlours for them because they can milk both services quite easily and they are quite adept at doing that. They have become very wealthy from the health services in dealing with the poor and the sick. At the same time they use the public facilities we provide for them. We allow them to use for their private patients private beds and private rooms in public hospitals and we allow them the full range of nursing and secretarial services. Deputy Desmond, while he was unsuccessful in this regard, tried to pin-point that scandal and that abuse within the system. The present Government and the Minister do not seem to be making any effort to take on these people.
When talking about waste of public money it is essential that we have some sharing process in this area. There is no point in some people at the top of the scale faring very well from the system while the lower paid workers are being turfed on to the streets and made pay the price for this waste of public money. There should be some equity in the system. I would like to see the Minister and the Government following up that area because in a society like ours, in a small country with a small population, we should have more of a caring and compassionate concept. This, unfortunately, is not coming across in the Minister's proposals. Far too much money is going to the wrong areas in our health services. Far too much money is going into private pockets. It is time to stop this lopsided development of our health services and it is also time to stop the drift towards a two-tiered system of health services, one system for the rich and one for the poor. I can see that happening if the Minister's proposals are allowed go through.
There are blueprints for this in America where the President, Ronald Reagan, took on the welfare lobbies. He did so successfully from his point of view but at a terrible price. In his own city of Washington there are very many poor people within a short distance of the White House and that is a very obvious indictment of the system. It reflects on the American system of competition. That kind of system is very much involved in the present attempt to cut health services here. I am in favour of a return for public money; I am not in favour of wasting public money but unfortunately the blueprint is there and it is a very obvious one which we must follow.
Similarly, in Britain Mrs. Thatcher succeeded in dismantling a good deal of the welfare system. As somebody who lived in Britain and saw the welfare system there working I realise that it had very good and valuable points. Despite the fact that we look at Great Britain as a different kind of society with a different ethos we could learn a lot from their compassion in that regard. Mr. Nye Bevan did an excellent job in putting in place that welfare system after the war, against very strong opposition at that time from the doctors. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thatcher was able to dismantle much of that system. We are now going down the same road and I deplore that.
Unfortunately, the crunch has come for us in this regard. In this House it boils down to numbers, as to who will stand up and be counted? I am glad to say that I voted against every aspect of this budget because I felt it was a badly balanced budget but it went through, cuts and all. The reality is that all the votes on the various aspects of this budget have been passed, including the one on the hospital charges which involved a division here three weeks ago. Last night the health cuts were again approved. It should be stated loudly and clearly that only 16 Deputies out of 166 in Dáil Éireann voted against the health charges being imposed. Last night only 12 Deputies out of 166 voted against the health cuts. That is the reality facing this House and facing the Irish people. This is not only about the whole question of health cuts, it is about politics and about the policies and priorities of our parties and politicians. The electorate must decide what kind of parties and politicians they want to send to Dáil Éireann to legislate on their behalf.
As I said elsewhere, there is no point in marching to the polling booth one day to vote for a politician or a party and a few months later marching around the streets protesting because that party or politician has taken away your job, has imposed health cuts and has refused to do anything about tax equality. It is about time that our people woke up to the consequences of their actions in this regard. Above all it is time for them to do something to change the position. It is time that Irish politics became more responsive and amenable to the interests of the PAYE earners and to the unemployed. As I said elsewhere, if the 250,000 people who are unemployed joined forces at the ballot box and the 70,000 PAYE earners and the families of all of them Irish politics could be transformed in a relatively short time. Unfortunately, the unemployed and the PAYE sector stop short of taking action and pull back from the consequences — more is the pity. Sadly, they have been unwilling to learn the obvious lesson from their inconsistent record so far as what they do at election time and what they do otherwise is concerned. It is a savage indictment of our society that at a time when health cuts are being imposed and the Government state they have no money, hundreds of millions of pounds of public money in the form of VAT remain uncollected. This tax has to be paid by the ordinary person. Similarly, hundreds of millions of pounds in income tax are also uncollected.
As was mentioned earlier, the farmers have been most reluctant to pay modest health charges or to pay land tax. I will confine myself to their reluctance to pay health charges. About two years ago the health boards were given permission to collect these health charges from farmers but unfortunately they were unsuccessful in doing so as were the Revenue Commissioners. At the same time as we are facing those health cuts there are other matters such as the hundreds of millions of pounds in VAT collected by individuals, which is going into private pockets instead of to the State and which will soon be written off. A vast amount of income tax remains to be paid by farmers, professional people, the self employed and others. The farmers refuse to pay any kind of taxes at all. They refuse to pay rates, income tax and health charges. They have no qualms about making the poor pay for the crisis in our economy.
It is time that all people created a party that will not stray from the issue of social justice in our society. It is time our people created a party that will stand up to the powerful and influential vested interests that dominate our society. This party will come about, not of its own accord but only when the people who are marching and protesting loudly outside the House realise this. I hope the people will come to this conclusion and will make the necessary action to bring this about. In this House I will continue as best I can as a lone Deputy to oppose the health cuts and to speak out against them as much as possible. I do not know and I do not think anybody knows, what the final outcome of these health cuts will be. They have been far too drastic and unplanned. They are an assault on the sick, the poor and the working people. I do not know how the Government can expect health boards to provide the same level of services they provided over the years while imposing these cuts. Commonsense tells us it is not possible to give the same treatment to the sick, the handicapped and the poor if the same level of money and resources are not provided.
I want to go on record as condemning these health cuts as being insensitive and utterly lacking in compassion. I know more about the operation of the Mid-Western Health Board and the private hospitals in Limerick than I do about the health boards throughout the country. The officials of the health boards have told me and other public representatives that hundreds of health board workers are about to lose their jobs. For instance, there has been a cutback of more than £5 million in the budget allocation for the Mid-Western Health Board. I do not know how the Government can introduce such a cutback and still expect the same services to be provided. Commonsense would decree that that is not possible.
Lower paid workers have come to me because they have been given notice from the Mid-Western Health Board. Some of these people, strangely enough, have been on short term contracts for four or five years. It is an abuse of the work of the Employment Appeals Tribunal when workers are kept on short term contracts to frustrate the aims of the tribunal. Since these people are on short term contracts, they are not in line for redundancy payments and so on. All they will get is a week's wages when they finish with the board after four of five years. This is a flagrant abuse of the labour legislation.
This is a fact which is not generally known.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, Deputy Burke. He said the Government's aim was to reshape health policies and put the health services in order. These are very laudable objectives and everybody would agree that reshaping the health services is long overdue, but it is the manner in which the Government are doing it which calls for opposition. The Government cannot take these measures without expecting some trouble from Members of this House and on the streets. Even at this late stage I appeal to them to draw back from the brink of this upheaval in society. This would not be a sign of weakness. In my opinion it would be the civilised and compassionate response of a Government to the pressures of public opinion.
I am not directing any abuse towards the Minister concerned because I do not see any point in personal abuse. I am against that because, as has been said, it is the Cabinet who are responsible and I do not see any point in singling out the Minister for that sort of abuse.
I ask the Government to rethink their position. I realise the Government are not bloodyminded. The Fianna Fáil Party have the record of being a populist party I do not like Fianna Fáil, their record, or their performance and I have many ideological differences with them. They are certainly not being bloodyminded in dismantling our health services and imposing these health cuts. This step is insensitive and perhaps is a measure of the gloom and doom felt throughout the country, but I do not believe making the health services the scapegoat for cutbacks in wasteful expenditure is the answer to the problem. This is tackling the problem at the wrong end. It would be more profitable to tackle the areas I have mentioned rather than taking on the poor lobby, the welfare lobby or the health lobby. In my view, the Government are wrong, insensitive and these steps are too drastic. I appeal to them, even at this late hour, to rethink their attitude to these cutbacks. While there is a need to save money and to make more productive use of public money, the Government have made a fundamental major error. It will not be to Fianna Fáil's credit if they persist with these measures in view of the wave of opposition inside and outside this House.