It might sound like a strange thing to say but there is a direct link between Hillsborough and the Irish health care system. It is worth pointing this out for a number of reasons but particularly in the centenary of 1916. This is because the links between the two show us the flags of nationalism often prevent us from seeing things as they really are. What happens us to us on these two islands doesn’t happen to us because we are Irish or English but because of things such as are our economic status and what class we come from. The truth of this is such that it can even decide when and how we die.
Now I have followed the Hillsborough tragedy for many years for a number of reasons. It just so happens that on that day in 1989 I happened to be in Sheffield and walking through the city centre and seeing all the fans talked casually about how great it would be to go and see the match. I recall asking a policeman at the train station later if he knew what the score was and his shocked response. I remember then how the tragedy and the death toll unravelled as the evening went on. I remember The Sun’s headline four days later called ‘The Truth’ and how it blamed the fans and accused them of stealing from and urinating on the dead. I remember the automatic assumption that if you were a young working class male attending a football match that you were a suspect. It has stayed with me down the years because one of the things I have remained passionate about from growing up in inner city Birmingham in an Irish family is working class culture and the role football plays in this. It was cheering then to hear in the aftermath of RTE’s coverage of the
Hillsborough Inquest the main sports correspondent Tony O’Donoghue speak about the importance class played in the events and to cite both the miner’s strike and ‘class war’ as instigated by Margaret Thatcher in his excellent explanation of what it all meant. For one of the truths of Hillsborough is that, however much football has changed, back in 1989 it was truly a working class game and one of the reasons why those fans were treated the way they were and died the way they did is because of that very fact. It was also the reason why Rupert Murdoch’s Sun felt able to publish the lies it did under the title ‘The Truth’ for, as Tony O’Donoghue also mentioned, Murdoch’s papers were Thatcher’s mouthpiece.
That was then, you might say, and this is now and that was England and this is Ireland. But that doesn’t wash. Firstly, it is worth noting that Murdoch’s Sun and Times, unlike every other national newspaper didn’t run the actual ‘Truth’ on their front pages yesterday once the verdict was announced. Secondly, with vivid timing, the Irish Cancer Society released a report that makes it explicitly clear that you live and die in Ireland dependent on the money in your pocket. Forgive me for being old fashioned but isn’t that about social class? Isn’t that one of the things that killed people at Hillsborough? The head of the Irish Cancer Society said ‘the grim reality of our healthcare system is that the difference between life and death can come down to your ability to pay for healthcare.’ Take this stark example. If you need a brain scan the waiting time is 20 times higher for public as opposed to private patients. In an overall context private patients have to wait around five days for critical tests. Those unable to pay have to wait around 480 days.
Now we have all heard everything we will ever need to hear about 1916 and we have all heard everyone else’s loaded interpretation about what the rebels wanted. But, even the most politically immature of those rebels, would anyone claim that any of them envisaged an Ireland a hundred years later where people died painful deaths solely on the basis of how much money they had? Is that the Ireland they dreamt of? That you die not because of your illness but because of your socio-economic class? After a century of medical advancement is that what it means to be Irish? And has there been a more damning indictment of how Irish society is run?
Hillsborough and the Irish Cancer Society have surely taught us one thing. Flags and nationality are something but the realities of life are another and the realities of life, the facts, are such that children born in 1989, much like a child born in 1916, won’t live and die because of which side of the Irish Sea their parents are from. They’ll live and they’ll die because of what class their parents belong to.