“Nowhere else in the world does healthcare become politicised in this way” said one recent contributor to a BBC debate.
In one line, she defined what is so dysfunctional about Northern Ireland “politics”. We have a bizarre notion of what “politics” is, and how exceptional we are.
Of course, healthcare is politicised in every democracy. What is more, that is exactly how it should be. Why on earth would it not be politicised? What on earth do we think we elect politicians for, if it is not to make decisions about healthcare, education, infrastructure and so on?
Every time the Assembly debates flags or a Council debates sporting invites, the coverage is vast. When they debate “real issues” – healthcare, education, infrastructure and the rest – it is more limited. Every time, numerous people comment how ridiculous it is that symbols and identity get such coverage and real issues (like, er, healthcare, education and infrastructure) do not.
Yet when we move on to those “real issues”, we then have this bizarre notion that they should not, in fact, be “politicised”. So in fact, logically, politicians should spend all their time talking about identity, is that right?
The comment also spoke to a bizarre exceptionalism; a belief that somehow everything is automatically different (and inferior) in Northern Ireland. There are many more such examples. How many times, for example, do we hear about our “unique” ability to mess up capital projects (even though Germany – yes, Germany – has an airport opening this year over a decade late)? More specifically, how many times, for example, do we hear about how Belfast Airport is “uniquely” not directly connected to the rail network (nor are Dublin, Cardiff, London-Luton, Bristol, Berlin-Tegel… or indeed most airports, actually)? We even now have the “most dangerous prison in the UK” (even though it is considerably less dangerous than average on almost every relevant measure). Everywhere else in the world is apparently full of geniuses who build everything on time, link up infrastructure perfectly, make prisons universally peaceful, and of course magically “not politicise” stuff that we elect politicians to deal with. Northern Ireland uniquely fails in every regard (despite the world-class Titanic Belfast centre forming part of the fastest rising tourist numbers in the UK, the most punctual train service in the UK, by far the lowest prison population in the UK, and healthcare only blighted politically by the fact it isn’t politicised because everyone is simply populist about it…)
It is time we came to terms with what “politics” is (“balance of powers/interests”, to give it its very original meaning), and with the fact that, when we do, we will look much like any other post-industrial society in Western Europe.