Mid Ulster District looks set to lend its support to a campaign for an All-Ireland health service – despite reservations from unionist councillors.
The issue was discussed at December’s meeting of Council’s development committee, following a presentation from a campaign group in October.
Speaking about the recommendation to consider the request to agree to support the campaign, independent councillor Barry Monteith said he was of the opinion the case for the campaign was well made.
“There was a good discussion on it that night,” said Cllr Monteith.
“I feel it is the common sense approach so I propose that we go ahead and support the concept of an All-Ireland health service.”
The proposal was seconded by independent councillor Dan Kerr who said it was a “brilliant aspiration”.
“As a socialist, I believe a universal health care system should be the way forward, with no privatisation allowed and am more than happy to second this proposal,” said Cllr Kerr.
DUP councillor, Kyle Black said he could understand why those in the Republic of Ireland would seek to support the campaign when they see the benefit those in Northern Ireland have of being able to access the NHS.
“Whilst not perfect, it is important we don’t lose sight of the great organisation the NHS is,” said Cllr Black.
“During the presentation it was acknowledged many in the Republic look onto our system with admiration.
“We understand there are many instances of cross border cooperation currently and recognise the benefit that can bring. However, there is a difference between cooperation and a full integrated health system.
“I don’t believe that reinventing the wheel is the way forward. I believe such a step would undermine the position of the NHS and the benefit this brings to the citizens of Northern Ireland through being a member of the United Kingdom.”
Cllr Black said Council should instead be focused on encouraging the delivery of the Bengoa report.
“Northern Ireland parties have agreed to work together to address the recommendations of the Bengoa report,” said Cllr Black.
“We believe the direction of travel should be for the Assembly and Executive to work together to build upon the great system we already have, for the benefit of all in Northern Ireland, rather than pursue this path.”
Sinn Fein councillor Niamh Doris said she was unsure what Cllr Black was referring to in terms of the NHS.
“It is a great model, but only when properly funded,” said Cllr Doris. “There are two broken health care systems in Ireland and that is what the issue is.
“An All-Ireland Health Care system just makes sense.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Trevor Wilson said Council needs to consider what it has the power to do.
“The last time I looked, health care was the responsibility of Stormont,” said Cllr Wilson.
“The UUP have long been in favour of cross border cooperation and being good neighbours. However, we have two countries on this island and two very different health systems as a result.
“Northern Ireland is served by the United Kingdom’s NHS and the Republic of Ireland has chosen a very different path in terms of health care.
“All the political campaigning in the world cannot change these facts.
“It is not for us in Northern Ireland to dictate to the people of the Republic what health service they should have or can afford, that is entirely a matter for them and them alone and has been since 1921.
“The UUP will not be party to any initiatives that risk the NHS, it is far too important to play politics with.”
Ulster Unionist group leader, Councillor Walter Cuddy said he agreed with his party colleague and said the NHS is closer to where we want to be.
“Should this not be a consideration for those down south to try and change their direction and pump more money into their system,” asked Cllr Cuddy.
“We are as close as we are going to be with the money available. We have to be realistic, nothing is perfect but we need to make the good system we have here a better system.”
SDLP councillor Martin Kearney said it was a worthy idea that was well worth consideration.
“Surely if the pandemic has taught us something, it is that the closer we work together the better,” said Cllr Kearney.
Sinn Fein councillor Dominic Molloy said there are two tiers of health service right across this island – those who can afford access and those who can’t.
“We see that day and daily those who can access services immediately and those on long waiting lists,” said Cllr Molloy.
“The campaign makes more sense than it does not, so we will be supporting the proposal.”
His party colleague Councillor Catherine Elattar, who works in the NHS, said she was in agreement with Councillor Molloy.
“This is not going to happen overnight, it is an aspiration,” said Cllr Elattar.
“I don’t see this proposal taking away from the NHS and the fact we have two health services on this island is absurd.
“There is an awful lot of money being wasted between those two services. I would definitely be supporting this to make health care better for everyone on this island.”
Councillor Sean Clarke also reiterated the point that there is a two-tier health system both north and south.
The matter was then put to a vote with the independent, SDLP and Sinn Fein members present voting in support of the motion while the DUP and UUP members present voted against the proposal.
This resulted in the motion passing with 10 members voting in favour and 5 members voting against.