Min­is­ter­has­nofear of‘poi­soned­chal­ice’ health­port­fo­lio

Bray People - - NEWS - By MARY FOG­A­RTY

SI­MON Har­ris was 20 years old when he be­gan to con­tact re­porters at the Bray Peo­ple and Wick­low Peo­ple, as his cam­paign for Grey­stones Town Coun­cil gath­ered steam and he was ad­vo­cat­ing for autism or­gan­i­sa­tion the Triple A Al­liance.

Within a decade, and just a few months shy of his 30th birth­day, he has been ap­pointed Min­is­ter for Health, the ‘poi­soned chal­ice’ of cabi­net port­fo­lios.

‘It’s been a very pe­cu­liar jour­ney. A lot of peo­ple do get in­volved in pol­i­tics young. I was elected to the Dáil when I was 24. I might have been the 16th or 17th youngest ever. The dif­fer­ence is a lot of them would have come to pol­i­tics through fam­ily, which isn’t a judge­ment call, but a lot would have taken over from a rel­a­tive and I didn’t have that con­nec­tion.

‘I got in­volved through the is­sue; set­ting up the Triple A Al­liance and work­ing with about 200 fam­i­lies in Wick­low liv­ing with autism. Be­fore I knew it, I was ag­i­tat­ing and cam­paign­ing.’

He was sur­prised to find him­self be­ing asked to be­come Min­is­ter for Health.

‘I was shocked. I had read and heard I had a chance of be­ing in the cabi­net. There was a sense that I might be of­fered some­thing, but I was sur­prised with health be­cause of the scale of it.’

While he re­ceived hun­dreds of mes­sages wish­ing him well. some were al­most com­mis­er­at­ing. Does the health port­fo­lio live up to its rep­u­ta­tion? And what can Har­ris bring to it that two doc­tors couldn’t?

‘I don’t think it is a poi­soned chal­ice. If you strip it back a bit, why do peo­ple get in­volved in pol­i­tics? Pre­sum­ably ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of what party they’re in or none, wants to make a pos­i­tive im­pact. It’s hard to think of a depart­ment in govern­ment where the de­ci­sions you make, the in­vest­ments you make, and the poli­cies that you pur­sue have the po­ten­tial to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on peo­ple’s lives.’

A lot has been made of the Grey­stones man’s age, par­tic­u­larly on so­cial me­dia, since the cabi­net was an­nounced.

‘We have a very young pop­u­la­tion and they have their right to have a voice in govern­ment. No­body would ever say “look at the age of Min­is­ter X” in terms of ref­er­ence to some­one be­ing of an older age. That would be ageist.’

With his 30th birth­day fall­ing in Oc­to­ber, Har­ris may fi­nally be able to dis­pose of the ‘wun­derkind’ man­tle. While he has prob­a­bly made sac­ri­fices to get where he is, in terms of pri­vacy, for ex­am­ple, that doesn’t bother him.

‘A lot of Ir­ish peo­ple my age had to give up a lot more than I did. They had to leave this coun­try to get a job and couldn’t be with their fam­ily and friends.’

His par­ents May and Bart, sib­lings Adam and Gemma, part­ner Caoimhe, and cir­cle of friends, keep him grounded, said Si­mon.

Last week, lead­ing on­col­o­gist Pro­fes­sor John Crown made an ap­peal for 50c to be tagged on to the price of cig­a­rettes to fund a par­tic­u­lar med­i­ca­tion for can­cer.

‘I agree with him and lots of other groups that a very ef­fec­tive way of re­duc­ing smok­ing is price. A lot of re­search shows that if you do in­crease price you re­duce con­sump­tion. We have a pol­icy here called “To­bacco Free Ire­land” which is aim­ing for a rate of less than five per cent of the pop­u­la­tion smok­ing by 2025, which is am­bi­tious, but doable.’

Min­is­ter Har­ris has dis­cussed the med­i­ca­tion as­pect of the is­sue with Prof Crown.

‘He was quite rightly ad­vo­cat­ing that Ir­ish can­cer pa­tients need two other drugs made avail­able to them, one called Pem­bro and an­other called Nivo. I’m open to the idea of hav­ing a special ring-fenced fund. How­ever, the is­sue that has to be ad­dressed is that we pay way more in this coun­try for drugs than the Euro­pean av­er­age.’

One of the so­lu­tions he puts for­ward is work­ing to­gether at a Euro­pean level to buy drugs. Prof Crown has also said that peo­ple with lower in­comes tend to wait longer for di­ag­noses. The Min­is­ter said that on the one hand, ed­u­ca­tion on health and nu­tri­tion can help re­duce the in­stances of can­cer over­all.

‘How­ever, it is not ac­cept­able that a per­son would be at a dis­ad­van­tage in terms of ac­cess to di­ag­nos­tics on the ba­sis of wealth. It is ab­so­lutely a prob­lem.’

The so­lu­tion, he said, is ‘unapolo­getic in­vest­ment in the health ser­vice,’ in­clud­ing more front­line staff and putting di­ag­nos­tic equip­ment in to pri­mary care cen­tres.

He plans to form a cross-party group to de­vise a com­mon ten-year strat­egy for the health ser­vice and sign up to it.

‘Re­gard­less of what hap­pens in pol­i­tics then, there’s a roadmap and a price tag,’ said the min­is­ter.

On a cam­paign for a cys­tic fi­bro­sis drug called Orkambi, Min­is­ter Har­ris said that while the rec­om­men­da­tion was that the drug couldn’t be pur­chased at a par­tic­u­lar price, the HSE and the man­u­fac­tur­ers are ne­go­ti­at­ing that mat­ter.

‘My hope is that the ne­go­ti­a­tion will be suc­cess­ful. Peo­ple al­ready on this drug will con­tinue to re­ceive it.’

Here in Wick­low, with the clo­sure of Lough­lin­stown A&E depart­ment, is it ac­cept­able that res­i­dents in ar­eas such as Glen­dalough have such a long jour­ney to hospi­tal in an emer­gency?

‘What we need to do to make sure things are ac­cept­able is to in­crease the ca­pac­ity of the am­bu­lance ser­vice,’ said Si­mon. ‘ The role of the paramedics has changed. They are highly trained, but we don’t have enough paramedics or ve­hi­cles.’

He added that the com­mu­nity first re­spon­ders’ role has been high­lightedi in a re­port given to the Dáil.

A ci­ti­zens assem­bly to be formed will be tasked with teas­ing out is­sues re­lat­ing to the eighth amend­ment, ‘ right to life’ as­pect of our con­sti­tu­tion.

‘My own po­si­tion on this, and I’m not afraid or ashamed to say itit, has evolved,’ said Si­mon, who rrecently read a damn­ing UN re­port ono the is­sue. ‘As I’ve met and spo­ken to peo­ple and in­formed my­self on the sit­u­a­tion. I’ve met a num­ber of fam­i­lies af­fected by fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties. You couldn’t meet and talk to th­ese peo­ple and hear their sto­ries and not think this is an ut­terly un­ac­cept­able sit­u­a­tion. I can’t look at th­ese peo­ple and say “what you’ve gone through is ac­cept­able”. I can’t do it. I don’t think it is ac­cept­able. My be­lief is that the eighth amend­ment needs to be ad­dressed. Ul­ti­mately we will need a ref­er­en­dum. We need to try to have a ma­ture, re­spect­ful, in­formed dia­logue as a coun­try.’ THE av­er­age rent for prop­er­ties in the pri­vate rented sec­tor has in­creased by €60 in Co Wick­low in the past year.

New fig­ures re­leased by the Res­i­den­tial Te­nan­cies Boards (RTB) re­veal that the av­er­age rent paid was €952 in the first quar­ter of this year – an in­crese of €17 when com­pared to the av­er­age rent paid in Q4 of 2015 and a jump of €60 on Q1 of 2015.

This data comes from the lat­est RTB Quar­terly Rent In­dex which is com­piled by the Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search In­sti­tute (ESRI) for the Board and re­lates to dwellings reg­is­tered with the board.

It is the most ac­cu­rate and au­thor­i­ta­tive rent re­port of its kind on the pri­vate ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor in Ire­land and is based on the ac­tual rents be­ing paid, ac­cord­ing to the RTB’s records, as dis­tinct from the ask­ing or ad­ver­tised rent.

This lat­est rent in­dex shows that rents across the whole coun­try con­tin­ued to in­crease in Q1 of 2016, when com­pared with Q4 of 2015, al­though the rate of growth slowed in most sec­tors in the first quar­ter. At a na­tional level, monthly rent lev­els rose in Q1 of 2016 (up by 0.5%) when com­pared with Q4 of 2015. This com­pared to a growth rate of 1.6% in Q4 of 2015. Monthly rents for houses were marginally lower, by 0.3%, while rents for apart­ments were 1.8% higher than in Q4, 2015.

‘ The trend in re­cent in­dices has been up­wards, and that growth con­tin­ued in Q1, 2016 with rents na­tion­ally now €73 a month higher than the same pe­riod in 2015,’ said Ros­alind Carroll, Di­rec­tor of the RTB. ‘How­ever, it ap­pears that the rate of growth is slow­ing.

‘While it is too early to make any real de­duc­tions from this, this is the sec­ond quar­ter in suc­ces­sion that we have seen growth slow,’ she added. LUCY is a beau­ti­ful look­ing cat with the most lovely mark­ings. She is about ten years old and would be look­ing for a quiet home. She would be the most fan­tas­tic com­pan­ion; she is very af­fec­tion­ate, she loves her pets and purrs so loudly.

If you think you can of­fer a for­ever home, con­tact the of­fice at 0404 44783 or call in dur­ing open­ing hours: Monday, Tues­day, Thurs­day, Fri­day and Saturday 11.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Sun­days and Bank Hol­i­days, 1.30 p.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Wed­nes­days). Our home vet­ting pol­icy ap­plies. Check out the web­site www. wick­lowspca.org to see all the an­i­mals that are look­ing for new homes.

Min­is­ter for Health Si­mon Har­ris.

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