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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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In this Irish Cancer Society debacle, let's remember they provide services that our government should

Ireland is the only EU country that relies on charity and philanthropy to provide essential services to our most seriously ill citizens, writes Tom Clonan.

IT HAS BEEN a roller coaster ride for the Irish Cancer Society and its dependents in recent days. A crisis in funding for the charity is threatening its ability to provide essential services to Irish cancer sufferers.

The charity is now in full crisis communication mode.

On Tuesday, the charity announced that it was cutting financial aid payments to cancer sufferers. On Wednesday, following fierce criticism, the charity partially reversed that decision and announced that it would continue to give financial support to the families of children receiving treatment for cancer. On Friday, the CEO of the charity, John Mc Cormack announced he was taking a pay cut of €10,000 with immediate effect.

Like the CRC scandal of 2013 and the Rehab scandal of 2014, the crisis currently engulfing the Irish Cancer Society share a number of key common denominators.

These common factors bring into sharp focus many of the challenges that beset our emerging – and deeply dysfunctional – society as shaped by the intellectual and ethical failures of the Celtic Tiger and the subsequent fetishisation of austerity by Fine Gael and Labour.

Over the last decade or so, our political discourse has been dominated by a narrative of this Republic, which reduces the notion of ‘Ireland’ solely to that of economy – to the exclusion of ideas around society.

With some notable exceptions, we now have a host of celebrity economists who have now replaced the Catholic Church as a form of new ‘priesthood’ whose self referential and largely inaccurate pronouncements are regarded as ‘gospel’.

A false narrative has been created which pits public service workers against private sector workers. Divide and conquer. Ireland is the only country in the developed world where doctors, nurses, teachers and police are routinely demonised by a compliant commentariat as overpaid and somehow responsible for the international financial crash.

In this environment, the systematic dismantling of our vital public services goes relatively unchallenged.

As a consequence, in Ireland – unlike other EU member states – organisations like the CRC, Rehab and the Irish Cancer Society provide vital and essential core services to our most vulnerable citizens.

Whilst charities in other EU member states may supplement the core supports provided by the state – Ireland is the only EU country that relies on charity and philanthropy to provide essential services to our most seriously ill citizens.

For example, the Irish Cancer Society is the only service provider of night nurses within the state – providing vital end of life palliative care for cancer sufferers in their homes.

They also offer a nationwide network ofvoluntary drivers to assist cancer patients in accessing care in centres of excellence. A chronically under-funded HSE and the voluntary sector struggle to provide a comprehensive health service to Irish citizens.

Having lost both my mother and sister to cancer, I have first hand knowledge of the essential work that the Irish Cancer Society does. As the parent of a child with disabilities, I am acutely aware of the invaluable work carried out by frontline staff in the CRC.

Starved of funding through no fault of their own, organisations such as the CRC and Irish Cancer Society are struggling to provide vital services that would ordinarily be provided by the state.

The current government is content to stand on the sidelines and watch the Irish Cancer Society plunged into crisis. The media storm around payments to staff and cuts to supports deflects attention away from the minister who is ultimately responsible for such services, Leo Varadkar.

It also deflects attention from a Taoiseach whose stated priority is an Ireland that is ‘the best little country in the world to do business in’. Sadly, it is the worst country in the EU to be disabled, homeless or an elderly person on a hospital trolley.

At least Fine Gael are honest. As Ireland’s Tories, they aspire to a US-style tax system and the privatisation of public services. Fine Gael’s long term vision for Irish society is identical to David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ plan for Britain.

The ironically titled ‘Big Society’ concept is simply a re-statement of Margaret Thatcher’s philosophy of eroded public services, privatisation of state assets and an increased reliance on philanthropy and charity – but only for the ‘deserving’ poor.

Cameron’s legacy in Britain will be sharper and more marked societal inequality with the incremental dismantling of national assets such as the NHS. Cameron and Enda Kenny along with their backroom cronies are far closer to Boston than Berlin in their aspirations for British and Irish society.

As we enter a general election period the plight faced by the Irish Cancer society and cancer sufferers in Ireland should give voters pause for thought. Caught in a Catch 22 situation, they are damned if they continue to pay their nurses and staff a dignified, living wage – and they are damned if they cannot afford to keep paying what ought to be state supports to vulnerable patients.

What will Britain look like after five years of majority Tory Government? What will Ireland look like if we give Fine Gael another five years in office – given their explicitly stated policy trajectories?

I would urge my fellow citizens to think carefully about what kind of society we want to vote for on the 100th anniversary of the Rising. I would also urge my fellow citizens to donate generously to the Irish Cancer Society this Daffodil Day.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.   

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