Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I wish the Taoiseach a very happy Christmas from County Clare in particular. I wish to raise with him a Bill that was discussed in this House on 26 November, the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Health) Bill 2019, which I introduced. An amendment was accepted by this House that a report on the Bill would be produced within six months. However, it will be due on 26 May, which most likely will be beyond the lifetime of this Government. I want to keep this issue alive on the floor of this Thirty-second Dáil. I would like to get the Taoiseach's views on the principles of the Bill. I believe it is a bold and ambitious Bill, a constitutional proposal that challenges the current thinking on health policy and health provision. It would place a socio-economic right to health into the Constitution.
The Bill reads:
i The State recognises the equal right of every citizen to the highest attainable standard of health protection; and the State shall endeavour to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.
ii The State shall endeavour, within its available resources, to guarantee affordable access to medical products, services, and facilities appropriate to defend the health of the individual.
iii The health of the public being, however, both individual and collective, the State shall give due regard to any health interests which serve the needs of the common good.
The Government did not accept that proposal and, as I outlined, it tabled an amendment. The two objections the Government made is that the amendment would be justiciable and it wanted to know how it would defend and put a limitation on rights in terms of taking cases to court.
The second ground on which the Government opposed the Bill was the separation of powers. The fear was that courts could dictate Government policy and it raised the question of what enforcement powers the courts would have concerning the provisions within the constitutional amendment.
Health inequality kills, and we certainly have health inequality in Ireland at the moment. Our two-tier system is a blight on the public service, in particular for the marginalised within the community. We continue to export our graduates due to the poor state of the health service. That results in gaps in the service and indefensible delays in the delivery of care, notwithstanding what the Taoiseach has just said. Such an amendment would place the implementation of Sláintecare on a constitutional basis rather than as a leisurely option. There would be no excuse for the Government to delay the implementation of Sláintecare. The amendment would act as a driver of health reform and new health policy. One of the strengths of the amendment is that failure to provide health services that are necessary, reasonable, proportionate and rational can be judged by the courts and, if found wanting, they could direct the Government to act to remedy its failings. In my view, courts would not decide policy, but could direct the Government to formulate policy and to vindicate a right to health. The failure of the Government to deliver on our health needs provides a powerful imperative for this amendment. I would like to get the Taoiseach's views on it.