MINUTES before Independent TD, Dr Jerry Cowley, was ejected from the Dáil last week he saw red. The Mulranny GP was absolutely fuming. It was Leaders’ Questions and Bertie and Enda were at it hammer-and-tongs over the hospitals’ crisis. Not exactly a novel subject in the chamber of the 29th Dáil.
It was Beaumont, Beaumont, Beaumont. But what about Mayo General? At 6.30am that very morning, Dr Cowley had visited the Castlebar hospital, en route to Dáil Éireann, and wasn’t impressed by what he saw.
It was now ten hours later, 4.20pm, on Tuesday, February 20, and fellow county man, Deputy Enda Kenny, was in full-flow grilling Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, about hospital-overcrowding.
In fact, he went as far as inviting him to Beaumont Hospital with him later that evening, around 6.30pm. “Let us get stuck in traffic if we must,” suggested Deputy Kenny.
It was after the Teflon Taoiseach confirmed that at 8am that morning 40 patients were waiting on trolleys in the Dublin hospital that Dr Cowley lost the rag.
“A total of 27 are waiting for beds at Mayo General Hospital,” interjected Dr Cowley.
“In reply to Deputy Kenny … ” continued the Taoiseach.
“Fourteen of whom are hidden away in a transit lounge,” continued Deputy Cowley.
“I ask Deputy Cowley to resume his seat,” ordered An Ceann Comhairle, Dr Rory O’Hanlon.
“One man has been waiting for nine days in the accident and emergency department,” added Dr Cowley.
“If the Deputy does not resume his seat, he will leave the house,” insisted the Ceann Comhairle.
“Old-age pensioners cannot get a bed,” argued Dr Cowley, referring to an 85-year old woman, with cardiac pain, who had spent all night on a trolley.
“The Deputy will have to leave the House.”
It was the following morning before Deputy Cowley was formally expelled from the Dáil for four days. The vote was 68 in favour and 53 against.
“I know I raised the question out-of-turn, but I just saw red since it was all about Beaumont. I was naturally distressed when I saw 13 people on trolleys [that morning] and then 14 more secreted away on trolleys in the old gynaecological ward. It’s being called the ‘temporary adult ward’, which is misleading since it’s not being included in the trolley count,” Dr Cowley told The Mayo News.
Dr Cowley has achieved quite a record for ejection from the Dáil chamber, having been expelled three times since his election in 2002, which is quite unusual according to an Oireachtas spokesman. His previous evictions were in 2005 for highlighting the continued incarceration of the Rossport Five, days before they were released from jail, and in 2004 he was expelled for raising the plight of Mayo dialysis patients forced to attend hospital in Galway.
While fellow Mayo TD, Deputy Michael Ring has also been expelled from the hallowed lower house, he criticises Dr Cowley’s actions as nothing more than ‘political stunts’.
“I was raising the subject of job-losses in Ballinrobe during an adjournment debate in the last [28th] Dáil. Seamus Pattison was Ceann Comhairle and I was meant to share time with another Deputy, but that hadn’t been made clear to me,” recalls Deputy Michael Ring.
“I’ve been threatened [with expulsion] a few times but I know the limits. I always know when to pull back. The place to be is inside the Dáil serving the people,” he added.