Dr Ruairi Hanley wants the anti-Mater camp to become ‘positronic’ about the new Children’s Hospital and kiss the ‘Keep It South Side’ stance goodbye.
Over the past five years, I have watched the debate surrounding the new national children’s hospital with great interest. My position on this has been consistent; I supported the Mater site and was willing to do so in print while others equivocated, sneered and occasionally put the boot in.
The logic of my stance was clear. Ireland needs a paediatric centre of excellence. A panel of experts decided that it should be attached to an existing adult hospital. On this basis, and on other criteria, the Mater was chosen.
The plans involve a truly magnificent, world-class building that stands head and shoulders above any other medical centre on this island. It appears on paper to be a wonderful facility that will transform the lives of many of our youngest citizens.
Regrettably, since the day that decision was made, we have been forced to endure constant medical bickering and clear attempts to sabotage a visionary project. The ‘anti Mater’ resistance has been led by a number of paediatricians, with intermittent lukewarm support from then-opposition politicians, who now find themselves in government.
I have read almost everything that opponents of this project have written and have found their arguments to be typically feeble and occasionally downright irritating. Many of these esteemed colleagues appear to be based in Crumlin Hospital and presumably believed the new centre should be located closer to their premises, or at an entirely new location ‘somewhere off the M50’. They made one thing very clear – the north inner city was to be avoided at all costs.
The K.I.S.S. brigade
In a column written some years ago, I sarcastically dubbed some of these objectors the ‘K.I.S.S. brigade’ – an acronym borrowed from the D4 anti-hero Ross O’Carroll Kelly. Its meaning is translated as ‘Keep It South Side!’
Needless to say, this attempt at comedy was poorly received in some quarters. One anti-Mater medic extended an invitation to a private meeting where I would have had “the facts” robustly explained to me. I agreed, on condition that any such “clarification session” should be held in public, with witnesses present. This was instantly refused, which led me to conclude that the true purpose of the exercise was to give me a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing.
After reflecting for roughly 10 seconds, I decided to decline this generous offer. In my defence, I may have recalled the immortal words of Brendan Behan: “I was court-martialled in my absence, sentenced to death in my absence, so I told them they could shoot me in my absence!”
Depressingly, the activities of the anti-Materites did not decline over time. Having found it difficult to argue with the potential clinical excellence of the new location, many of them seemingly discovered a newfound expertise in the field of civil engineering. Thus we were treated to medical consultants talking with authority on the subject of transport links, car parking and urban planning. Of course, the fact that the outer rim of the M50 is poorly served by public transport was largely ignored. So too was the existence of excellent paediatric centres in busy urban areas across the developed world.
Other opponents of the project pointed the finger at Bertie Ahern. This wonderfully deranged analysis stated that, as our former Taoiseach had the Mater Hospital in his constituency, the whole thing was obviously a fix and should be abandoned immediately on principle, regardless of any clinical merit whatsoever. As is often the case with conspiracy theories, definitive evidence of this plot proved difficult to uncover.
Thanks in part to the sterling efforts of the anti-Materites, the development of the new centre progressed at a snail’s pace. To their considerable joy, Dr James Reilly TD, while in opposition, promised a review of the project when he assumed office.
The new Minister was true to his word. Expert paediatricians where brought in from around the globe, but still at the expense of the taxpayer.
After several months, having carefully analysed the evidence, the experts decided to once again recommend the Mater site.
Unfortunately, we now are in the midst of a serious economic crisis and the State will struggle to find the money to build this long-overdue facility.
We will have to wait until September to find out if the national centre can become a reality. The unborn infants of Ireland can only hope.
A fair hearing
In my opinion, the constant whingeing of the anti-Mater gang has achieved nothing but to cause potentially fatal delay to the creation of our national children’s hospital. They have been given more than a fair hearing and their arguments have been repeatedly rejected by utterly impartial international experts in their own specialty.
I would now hope that these colleagues would leave aside their well-nurtured sense of grievance and openly declare their support for the Mater site.
That would be the noble and honourable course of action.
But why do I get the sinking feeling that there are those doctors whose bitterness is so intense that they would now prefer if this facility were never built at all? Why do I suspect that some people are actually hoping that the money will not materialise this September?
This has been an unedifying episode and our profession has not come out of it covered in glory. Nonetheless, we still have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something wonderful for sick children throughout Ireland. I plead with my colleagues to cease their efforts at sabotage.
Let’s build it now.