Talkback and other discussion forums like it, were inundated with people calling for Mr Poots’ plan to be put into action. Fortunately there was a doctor with a bit of sense willing to show the nonsense of such a proposal:
“A leading GP has branded the health minister's view that there is "merit" in charging fees to patients who end up in A&E due to alcohol or drugs as "simplistic and totally impractical".
Dr George O'Neill, Chairman of Addiction NI, said while it starts an important conversation about dealing with a wider problem, Edwin Poots' comments are "naive" and a "knee-jerk response".”
Alcoholics and drug addicts are by definition sick people; what is the health service for if not to help sick people?
Imagine a wee nurse standing at some hospital A&E department door with one of those card payment machines, asking a drunk for his Visa card before he is treated for the broken leg he has sustained falling down the stairs in a pub, or the mother of a dying drug addict being asked if he can pay for the methadone that might save him.
But such is the country in which we live. Poots reflects the populist idea that there is the deserving and the undeserving in our society and people like drug addicts and alcoholics are among the undeserving.
If we go down this way of thinking who else shall we put in the undeserving bucket list: the unemployed, compulsive gamblers, the obese, the people with low IQs and perhaps the people who are too old to make a useful contribution to society.
Thankfully, Dr O’Neill summed the whole thing up in a sentence: “Dr O'Neill, a GP with 40 years’ experience, said: "What he said is very simplistic and a very naive view. Politicians should stick to strategy and policy and should not be looking at delivery of service, that is not their role.”
Another wee point came to the fore this week when it was revealed that Michaela McCollum is to be sent back to the UK to serve out her time for drugs offenses. David McNarry, UKIP’s sole MLA, up there where the privileged meet, questioned the politics behind the move.
“The Irish Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs have intervened on behalf of one of their citizens and secured her release from Peru. Now for the twist; Michaela McCollum is not returning to serve out her prison sentence in the Irish Republic she will do so in the United Kingdom – how come?” he said.
“What role did the UK Foreign Office have in the matter? Which government authority, the UK or the Irish Republic, gave guarantees and undertakings to the Peru authorities enabling Michaela’s pending release to be processed?
“No doubt Michaela’s parents are relieved that she is being transferred from Peru as any parents would be. But surely the issue of so-called ‘dual nationality’ will be looked at by David Ford and the matter of Northern Ireland footing the bill for those calling themselves Irish, and travelling on Republic of Ireland passports, will be reviewed. I would call for dual nationality to be scrapped,” he added.
It was an interesting bit of politics. The New North is based on the idea that we are what we want to be, we can be either Irish or British depending upon what notion we take on the day. Like most things in life, national identity has now become a matter of choice.
So, perhaps this young woman was travelling on an Irish passport. So what, she has every right to do so. If the family asked the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to help in the case they were well within their rights. When a family is in trouble they take help from anywhere they can get it.
The problem arises for those people who try to insist that Northern Ireland is solely part of the UK. That’s the unfortunate reality of Northern Ireland as it stands today: it is really only a semidetached member of the last bit of the British Empire.
Golfers can choose which country to represent, the UK or Ireland, in the Olympics, no matter which part of the island they are born in. It is the same with all other sports, and the right of choice carries straight through to citizenship.
Those of a unionist persuasion come up with a fair argument; we take the financial benefits of being in the UK so we should owe it allegiance.
That is true, we cannot deny it, but that is the price a country pays when it rules another country. America invades Iraq and spends a fortune helping people who don’t want them there; that’s the way it is.
Poor old Britain, and I stress the word poor, is now beginning to pay compensation to the people of Kenya for atrocities carried out there during the days of empire.
That’s the cost of being a former imperial power.
Michaela McCollum’s family have every right to seek the help of the Free State government: that’s the price they pay for pretending to care about the Irish left behind in the north!
Life is never clear cut the way Poots and McNarry would like it to be. Accidents happen to drunks and drug addicts the same as the rest of us and families care about their children no matter where they are in the world. It’s called, ‘being human.’
We all know that; when we meet someone we love and care about we want to give them a big hug and kiss.
Stuart Cannell, the artist behind the now infamous image of our beloved First and Deputy First Ministers kissing, was affronted by the decision of the art gallery to put up a warning sign about the image:
"This exhibition contains some artwork containing violent or sexual images".
This begs the very obvious question; is the image of Peter and Martin kissing a piece of erotic art or a portrayal of violence?
It’s a bit like being from Northern Ireland, you can choose to see it whatever way you want.
But in fairness, there are certain things that are repulsive to the human nature and kissing a Northern Ireland politician of either sex must be one of them.
But was it news? Was the image of Peter and Martin snogging a real piece of news?
News is what the BBC decides it should be.
One day last week, poor old Robin Williams decided to end his own life. It turns out that the actor had Parkinson’s disease, alcohol and drugs problems and was depressed. Here was a man that most of us thought had everything and yet he chose to take his own life; very sad.
What got to me though was that on Tuesday evening the BBC, on its main evening news, gave the story the first eight minutes of it programme to this man’s suicide. But there was something more subtle and it is a question that society can no longer even face, what about the family he left behind?
In all the reports of the suicide there was the underlying assumption that Robin Williams had the right to decide what to do with his life, no matter what the effect on others. And in several papers the fact that he had a wife was not even mentioned.
We are back to the point about Northern Ireland citizenship, everyone has the right to choose about everything.
But in a world that is riven with war and crisis, how can the BBC justify giving the first eight minutes of the main evening news over to the death of an actor.
It shows us what we see as important; the death of one average celebrity is worth more to the news than all the wars going on in the world today: what odds about a few thousand Christians being killed because they follow some man that said life was a gift from God, we’ll focus on Robin Williams, who was modern and famous.
There are just over 200 countries represented at the UN. Have you any idea how many of these countries are involved in military actions against someone else? I was surprised when I heard the total: 62 countries are fighting in some sort of war somewhere in the world.
Isn’t that amazing, 62 countries fighting and we could not name the quarter of them. Syria and Afghanistan have fallen off the news radar completely. Libya’s civil war never gets a mention except when it threatens oil production. The civil wars in Africa, well, it’s only Africa, let them sort it out!
We have mastered a technology, the spreading of instantaneous news, which has given us an awareness calling us to do something and yet, most look upon it as entertainment. But you can’t blame the media; we all suffer from news overload, we can’t keep up with what is going on.
Oh, and by the way have you realized, we British, if you see it that way, or those British, if you see it the other way, are among the biggest arms exporters in the world. I wonder does that mean that all these wars and the revenue we get from arms manufacturers, help pay for our health service.
People who know about these things tell us that the human being functions in a society or group of about 200 people. What they mean is that in our lives we build a small society around us with about this number of people in it. They are not necessarily near neighbours, they could live quite a bit away, but in general the human being has evolved to live in a grouping of about 200 people.
When you think of the village structure that exists in most parts of the world, or even the townland social setting of Ireland, you can get a picture of this in your head. Even in metropolitan England, men go to their ‘local’ for a beer, where they have the same drinking partners and talk about the same things week in week out.
It is not surprising then that news of wars in far off places are not that important to us and that the odd celebrity dying, a celebrity being a person we all feel we know, is big news to us all.
We all felt we knew Robin Williams; we all grew up with him. From Mork and Mindy right down through a series of very good films, he had been part of our lives for years.
But this is just an illusion, a false image of society created by the silver screen and our desire to know and associate with the rich and famous. The reality is slightly more difficult.
The reality is that we live in a community where people get drunk and where children get into trouble. When our children end in some foreign hell hole for whatever reason we want to help them: it is called ‘being a parent.’
When our alcoholic friend gets drunk, (and every community of 200 will have at least ten alcoholics or drug addicts) and falls down and hurts himself, we want to take him to the hospital and get him cared for: it is called ‘being a friend.’
This is what human beings do, they look after their own. It is as natural as breathing or eating, and it is why there is something distasteful to hear politicians trying to score political points on the backs of other’s misfortunes.
Our community is important to us. The 200 or so people we choose to have in our community are very much a part of our lives. Any good politician knows this and hence we have the saying that ‘all politics is local.’
Where Northern Ireland has failed, and it is a natural consequence of why this sham state was set up, is that we have super-imposed two ‘groupings,’ the nationalist and the unionist, over the natural small community that people live in.
I suppose when you have an artificial country you are going to have artificial communities. It seems natural doesn’t it; and the reality is poor Robin Williams, no matter how many times he was in the box in the living room corner, was never really part of any of our communities.
Our real communities are friends and families we have around us where we can give of ourselves.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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