The Reverse Robin Hoods of the Irish Health Service


This article appears in the Chicago ‘Irish American News’ for February, 2017.

HSE Children's Cancer Charity Funding Reversal


Every single power system manipulates and uses ordinary people to further that system’s own supposedly noble aims.”

I’m slightly paraphrasing that spot-on sentiment from the great American film director, Sam Peckinpah.

With bitter accuracy he noted:

“All the goddamn power systems, all the wheelers and dealers at the top with their gin and fizzes…need guys like you to do their bloodletting while they’re busy making speeches about freedom and progress.  They’re all full of it.  There’s not one power system that cares about a civilian.”

We’ve seen the truth of this over and over again since that 1972 interview, back when we still held desperately onto the few vestiges of innocence that we had left.  After all, surely at least some of those in charge of us must be honest and decent and…well, have the good of the ordinary person at heart.

In the intervening years since we lost our collective virginity, we have witnessed one power system after another show its feet of clay:  the Church, the Banks, the Judicial…and the Health Service.

In Ireland the health system has only this week been shown up — once again — for the shambles it is.  Despite the fact that we actually DO have hard-working and compassionate people on the front line, they are hampered and held back by those who shout that there IS NO MONEY to change things; to speed up appointments for those who are desperately ill; to take the suffering off the trolleys that they can spend days on whilst waiting for a non-existent bed.

And there IS money, make no doubt about that.  Money is always something that can be found when our Masters want to show off — or grab a photo-op — on the world stage. 

Only this week they found a couple of million Euros down the back of the couch that they decided to send to war-torn Yemen:  a country that few could point to on a map because it has been kept out of mainstream reporting due to the uncomfortable fact that it involves our old pals in Saudi Arabia; weapons being bought from the British; and other ‘power systems’ that we don’t want to upset.  And the very fact alone that we’re coming out with this after FIVE SILENT YEARS tells me everything I need to know about the likelihood of any money being sent over reaching the correct destination.

For the moment, though, let’s stay a bit closer to home:

In 2008 the Health Service Executive (HSE) made a written commitment to help fund the Irish children’s cancer charity Hand in Hand with the sum of €450,000.

Over the three-year period from 2009 – 2011 the amount of €300,000 was to be returned to the HSE upon closure of the separate charity, Boys Hope – Girls Hope. 

It was agreed between their trustees and the HSE that €150,000 would be added to the €300,000 to fund the unique services of Hand in Hand.   This was the composition of the figure of €450,000; and this was the agreement confirmed by the HSE.

At this point Hand in Hand was unaware that an internal HSE memo of the period made the remarkable presumption that:

‘We (HSE) are likely to benefit as not all existing funding will be used in any given year.’

Basic Timeline

On May 4th 2009 the check for €300,000 was sent to the HSE with a cover letter that referenced the terms of the donation.

Only nine days later — again in an internal HSE email — an official notes that the total amount available in the first year of funding is to be… halved.  This email also categorically states:

 ‘It goes without saying that [Hand in Hand] do not need to know that the funding is being reduced by half in 2009.’

On July 1st the charity signed an HSE Memorandum of Understanding.  This was under false pretenses as pertinent information had been deliberately withheld from them, leaving them to naturally believe that the agreement was for €450,000.

Startlingly, it was only thirty days later that the HSE deigned to inform them that it could not now make a commitment to funding beyond the end of the year.

And – incredibly — worse was to come. 

Two months later, on the 28th of September, having received precisely nothing at all at this point, the offer was withdrawn.  The reason given was simply that the HSE was ‘not in a position’ to fund the service and – again with extraordinary bluntness – this little children’s cancer charity were informed that the matter was ‘non negotiable’.

In fact it is now known, due to yet another internal memo, that ‘the 300k was used as income to offset the [HSE] bottom line in 2009’.

Just let that sink in for a moment, if you will. 

The money was used to offset the bottom line of a powerful organisation.  And to do that they were willing to stick their clammy little paws into the pockets of children who have been diagnosed with just about the worst illness that I can imagine.

And mark you, this is all during the period when they were handing over literally millions to the conman Paul Kelly of Console.  Talk about taking from the poor to give to the rich.

We hear a lot about ‘hitting the most vulnerable in society.’  Hell, like most truisms it’s become something of a cliché.

But to my mind it takes a special kind of ghoul to hit out at the families of children who are going through this awful time.

That same memo goes on to state:

‘As a consequence of political pressure… only half the money originally available is going to be made available over 3 years…’

And, to add final insult to injury:

‘…with absolutely nothing more to be added by us regardless of how worthy the service proves to be.’ 

Again, you feel an intake of breath here:  regardless of how worthy the services are. 

To hell with them, in other words.  Our bottom line is only ever M-O-N-E-Y, suckers! Show me the M-O-N-E-Y!

So by December 7th the HSE approved – ‘on a once-off basis only’ – a payment of €50,000 to support the charity’s work in 2011.

Indeed, an internal memo had revealed that:

 ‘…the Minister [was told] before the summer that the HSE would honour the commitment given by this organisation – at this point I need something in writing as it has become embarrassing’.

In what is a stunningly convoluted trail, the most surprising thing is that only now was it perceived as becoming ‘embarrassing’.

The sheer disrespect and contempt that the charity continues to be  shown as it tries to get its money is staggering.

For the last few years I’ve volunteered a few hours a week with this charity.  I do it because they’re not one of those that have an overpaid – or indeed any – CEO.  I do it because they have a Board who are completely voluntary.  I do it because this is a REAL charity, not one that goes by that name whilst in truth being a part of Corporate Ireland.

And I do it because they are the only charity of its kind that offers the practical, essential help that they do.

And as I am simply a volunteer, these views are my own.  But I’m spitting blood. That money withheld by the HSE (as of my writing on 12th January) would ease the suffering of children with cancer and their families throughout Ireland.

To ignore that is to cross a line that even I didn’t think would be done.  Not even by the HSE.

Two weeks later: –

To be honest, if the HSE ever now DOES do what is right it will only be because the mainstream newspapers are beginning to take an interest. 

At this stage, though, I believe them to be beyond embarrassing and certainly beyond giving a damn about sick children. 

They are a shame and a disgrace.