Dr Noël Browne resigns April 12, 2013Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Health, History.
The health of Irish women & children is free from undue influence 62 years on thankfully.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Dr. Browne has given notice of intention to ask the permission of the House to make a personal statement.
Dr. Browne: It is fitting and, I am informed, in accordance with usage, that I should explain to the Dáil very briefly the reasons which led me to resign my position in the Government. I am deeply grieved that I have found myself compelled to take this step.
Since becoming Minister for Health I have striven within the limits of my ability to improve the health services of the country. Some progress has been made but much remains to be done. It is perhaps only human that I should wish to have the honour of continuing the work. However that is not to be. To me the provision of a health scheme for the benefit of the mothers and children of our nation seems to be the very foundation stone of any progressive health service without which much of our efforts in other directions would prove fruitless. It seemed equally important to me that any such scheme to be effective and indeed just should be made available free to all our people who choose of their own free will to use it without the imposition of any form of means test. On this point did I stand firm in my negotiations with the medical profession. On other matters I was willing and, indeed, eager that the profession should from their knowledge and experience play their full part in improving the scheme.
I had been led to believe that my insistence on the exclusion of a means test had the full support of my colleagues in the Government. I now know that it had not. Furthermore, the Hierarchy has informed the Government that they must regard the mother and child scheme proposed by me as opposed to Catholic social teaching. This decision I, as a Catholic, immediately accepted without hesitation. At the same time I do not feel that I could be instrumental in introducing a scheme which would be subject to a means test. Apart from my personal views about a means test I feel that in taking the decision which I have had to take, as a man privileged to hold my high office, there is another principle to which I had to have regard. I have pledged myself to the public and to the Clann na Poblachta Party to introduce a mother and child health scheme which would not embody a means test. Since I could not succeed in fulfilling my promise in this regard I consider it my duty to vacate my office.
While, as I have said, I as a Catholic accept unequivocally and unreservedly the views of the Hierarchy on this matter, I have not been able to accept the manner in which this matter has been dealt with by my former colleagues in the Government.
In June, 1948, the Government, in Cabinet, authorised me to introduce a mother and child health scheme to provide free maternity treatment for mothers and free treatment for their children up to the age of 16 years. At the meeting of the Government at which this decision was taken the question of whether the scheme should be free to all those anxious to use it was discussed. The decision of the Government was, in effect, that there should be no means test. I, accordingly, on the authority of the Government, wrote in August, 1948, to the Irish Medical Association to inform them that the Government had considered their representations on the question of a means test in the proposed mother and child health scheme and had rejected their proposal for its imposition.
Following discussions with the Department of Finance, agreement was reached on the financial aspects of the scheme, which was thereupon drafted. The Estimate for the Department of Health for 1950-51, with the consent of the Government, included almost £400,000 for a scheme without a means test, but as it had not been introduced, this money was not expended. Nearly 12 months ago direct negotiations on the scheme were entered into with the Irish Medical Association. A copy of the draft scheme, based on these principles, was also transmitted to each member of the Government for his information. In the course of negotiations with the Medical Association, counter-proposals were made by them. These proposals were rejected by me as being in conflict with the policy in relation to a means test which the Government had already made, and which has only formally been rescinded by them as late as Friday last.
On the 10th October, 1950, I was informed that His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, wished to see me in connection with the proposed scheme. I attended at the Archbishop’s House on the following day where I met His Grace and Their Lordships, the Bishops of Ferns and Galway. I was informed that at a meeting of the Hierarchy on the previous day at Maynooth, His Grace and Their Lordships had been appointed to put before the Government certain objections which the Hierarchy saw in the scheme; that I was being informed of these objections as a matter of courtesy before transmission to the Taoiseach as head of the Government.
His Grace read to me from a letter which had been prepared for transmission to the Taoiseach. A general discussion followed. At the conclusion of this interview I was under the impression, erroneously as it now appears, that His Grace and Their Lordships were satisfied with my explanation of the scheme and with my answers and undertakings given in regard to the objections made by them. On that day I was also informed by His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, that he was meeting the Taoiseach on the following morning, 12th October. On the following day the Taoiseach spoke to me of his interview with His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, and he informed me he had been told by His Grace that he and Their Lordships were satisfied following their interview with me. The Taoiseach has since denied that he made this statement. What is certain. however, is that he did not give me to understand that His Grace and Their Lordships remained unsatisfied.
About the 9th or 10th November I learned that the Taoiseach had received a letter, dated 10th October, 1950, from the Bishop of Ferns, as secretary to the Hierarchy. The Taoiseach gave me this letter for my observations with a view to a reply. The objections in the letter appeared to be those read to me by His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, during my interview on 11th October, and, in the light of the later events, I concluded that it had been transmitted solely for the purpose of record and formal reply. I, therefore, acting on this assumption, prepared a draft letter for transmission by the Taoiseach to His Lordship of Ferns, as secretary to the Hierarchy, in reply to the various points raised in their letter. In this answer I substantially recapitulated the case I had made when I met His Grace and Their Lordships at Drumcondra on 11th October. I would like to emphasise that, as I still believed that His Grace and Their Lordships had been reassured by the case made by me on the 11th October, I merely regarded this reply also as being for purposes of record by the Hierarchy. I sent this draft to the Taoiseach shortly after mid-November to be forwarded by him to the Hierarchy. As I heard nothing further about the matter from either the Hierarchy or the Taoiseach until a couple of weeks ago I had no reason to believe that the Hierarchy were not fully satisfied, and the work of preparing for the introduction of the mother and child scheme continued.
From October onwards discussions were continued with the Irish Medical Association in an effort to reach agreement. The association was also interviewed by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. An account of that interview (which, I understand, was submitted to the Taoiseach) is contained in a circular letter issued by the Irish Medical Association on 12th December, 1950, to their members, in the course of which it was stated that it was the Taoiseach’s considered opinion that neither the Dáil nor the Seanad would approve any amendment of the Act or regulations which would envisage the omission of a free service for all in connection with the scheme. Preparations for the introduction of the scheme progressed and on 6th March its early implementation was widely publicised by me.
In the meanwhile the Book of Estimates for the financial year 1951/52 had been published in which provision was made (page 403) for an expenditure  of £661,000 on mother and child services, and it was explained in a footnote on that page that further expenditure of about £300,000 in the year was probable, and that a Supplementary Estimate would be introduced.
On the 9th March I received a letter from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin. From this letter I was surprised to learn that His Grace might not approve of the scheme, and declared that the objections which had been raised by him in October had not been resolved. I was surprised for the simple reason that I had heard nothing further, either from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, acting on behalf of the Hierarchy, or from the Taoiseach, acting for the Government, in the four months that had intervened since I had handed to the Taoiseach in November my reply to Their Lordships’ letter. Following receipt of His Grace’s letter, a copy of which was sent by His Grace to the Taoiseach, the latter suggested to me on the 15th March that I should take steps at once to consult the Hierarchy regarding their objections to the scheme. I then learned to my distress and amazement that the reply to Their Lordships’ letter which I had prepared and sent to the Taoiseach in the previous November had, in fact, never been sent by him. The Taoiseach has given three explanations—two to me and one to the Hierarchy and all differing—as to why he did not forward my letter to the Hierarchy. One reason to me was that he considered the reply ineffective; another was that no covering letter from me was received with it and he did not realise that. I wanted it sent to the Hierarchy. In his letter of March 22nd the Taoiseach says that he explained to His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, his reasons for not replying to the Hierarchy, and that His Grace conveyed these reasons to the Hierarchy. The third reason for not replying, which appears in the Taoiseach’s letter of March 27th to the Hierarchy, was that he and His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, believed it to be more advantageous in the  special circumstances of the case to await developments.
I told the Taoiseach orally that his failure to forward this reply had placed me in a very embarrassing position and might easily give Their Lordships the impression that I had omitted to give any consideration to their objections and that further I had been guilty of extreme discourtesy in failing to ensure that a reply had been sent to them. I also pointed out that his failure to send this letter had the effect that I remained under the erroneous impression that the objections of the Hierarchy had been fully resolved and that I could proceed with the scheme. I was surprised also to learn from the Taoiseach that he had been in constant communication with His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, on this matter since the receipt of the letter of 10th October from the Hierarchy, so presumably he was fully aware that Their Lordships’ objections were still unresolved. He offered no explanation as to why, in the light of this knowledge, he had failed to keep me informed of the position; had allowed me continuously to refer in public speeches to the scheme as decided and unchanged Government policy, and finally had allowed the scheme to go ahead to the point where it had been advertised at considerable public expense and had been announced to the public, both in these advertisements and by my radio talk. He, furthermore, offered no explanation as to why, being aware of the Hierarchy’s objections to the scheme, he continued to allow the Tánaiste, Dr. O’Higgins and myself to negotiate with the Medical Association, and why, in the light of this knowledge to which he now confesses, he himself informed the Medical Association that the Government would not agree to the inclusion of a means test.
This conduct on the part of the Taoiseach is open, it seems to me, to only two possible explanations—either that he would not oppose the scheme if agreement were reached with the Medical Association on the means test or that. in the light of his knowledge of the objections still being made by the Hierarchy and withheld from me,  he intended that the scheme without a means test must never in fact be implemented.
At this time medical opposition became very intense, however. Yet I, acting on the Government decision of 1948 and my own convictions in the matter, remained constant in my determination to exclude a means test from the mother and child scheme. On the 14th March the Taoiseach spoke to me in Leinster House concerning the growing opposition of the Medical Association and informed me that he now believed that there should be a means test and that he was in favour of the Medical Association’s views on that matter. I challenged him, as I challenged the other Ministers—Mr. Dillon, Dr. O’Higgins, Mr. Norton and Mr. MacBride—who made similar representations, that they should consider this matter not as individuals but as a Cabinet and if they so wished reverse their decision of 1948 to exclude a means test. I would then take whatever action I considered fit in regard to my personal position. They all refused to take this course. On the 14th March I received a letter from the Minister for Finance pointing out that a change I had proposed that private general practitioners should be admitted to the scheme would involve a further expenditure of public moneys and that, consequently, the matter would require to be placed before the Government. As the amount involved was very small in relation to the total cost of the scheme and as he had allowed the larger financial issues in the main scheme to be settled without formal reference to the Government, this attitude surprised me.
Evidently at this time my former colleagues finally realised that I was adamant—that nothing short of a Government decision to the contrary would alter my determination to implement a scheme without a means test. They now revealed the final objection to my programme—the objection of the Hierarchy.
Despite the representations of the Taoiseach on the 14th March concerning his fears of the repercussions from the opposition of the Medical Association and concerning his wish and  anxiety to retain a means test in the proposed scheme, and despite also the letter which I received from the Minister for Finance on the same day, which pointed out the importance of the economic implications in my proposed extension to include private practitioners, is it not strange that in the long and carefully worded letter of the 15th written by the Taoiseach on the very day following these various objections of money, means test, necessity for further Cabinet consideration on the scheme, the danger of opposition from the Medical Association—that none of these politically dangerous objections was mentioned, but the objection which, in his then view, was the only outstanding one—the views of the Catholic Hierarchy? My fears at this stage that the Government were unwilling to ratify their decision of 1948 to initiate a scheme with no means test have been confirmed by the contents of this letter.
The letter sent by the Taoiseach on the 27th March, 1951, to the Bishop of Ferns, in his capacity as secretary to the Hierarchy, enclosing my observations, refers to the scheme “advocated by the Minister for Health”, thereby implying that the scheme was not advocated or supported by himself or other members of the Government. In a letter of the 5th April from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, written on behalf of the Hierarchy, it is stated that they were pleased to note that no evidence had been supplied in the Taoiseach’s letter of the 27th March that the proposed mother and child scheme advocated by the Minister for Health enjoys the support of the Government. I have, accordingly, regretfully come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the Government decision of June, 1948, against the inclusion of a means test, the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government had, in fact, changed their minds about the scheme.
It is a fact noted by many people that in no public speeches did Ministers of the Government other than myself speak in favour of this measure. I regret that for the want of courage on their part they should have allowed the  scheme to progress so very far—that they should have failed to keep me informed of the true position in regard to their own attitude and the attitude of others. I have, consequently, been allowed by their silence to commit myself to the country to implement a scheme which certain members of the Government at least did not want, on their own admission, to see implemented and which they were in fact aware could not be implemented.
I trust that the standards manifested in these dealings are not customary in the public life of this or any other democratic nation and I hope that my experience has been exceptional.
I have not, lightly, decided to take the course I have taken. I know the consequences which may follow my action. The honesty of my motives will be attacked by able men; my aims will be called in question; ridicule and doubt will be cast upon the wisdom of my insistence in striving to realise the declared objectives of the Party to which I belonged.
As Minister for Health I was enabled to make some progress in improving the health services of the nation only because I received the generous cooperation of members of all political Parties and of all sections of the community.
I lay down my seal of office content that you—members of this House—and the people who are our masters here, shall judge whether I have striven to honour the trust placed on me.
The Taoiseach: It is obvious that the statement made by the former Minister for Health requires an answer at the earliest possible moment. I, therefore, with your permission, propose to move the Adjournment of the House at 7.30 in order that I may have an opportunity of replying. In the meantime, may I say that I have seldom listened to a statement in which there were so many—let me say it as charitably as possible—inaccuracies, misstatements and misrepresentations?
Mr. Morrissey: Hear, hear!
Mr. Flanagan: May I ask the Taoiseach whether, when the Adjournment  of the House is moved at 7.30 for a discussion of this matter, an opportunity will be given for the purpose of discussing the allegations made by Deputy Dr. Browne against the Minister for External Affairs for participating in corrupt practices?
Mr. Kitt: The lawyers will make another Locke’s Distillery out of this.
Mr. O’Rourke: Will we be allowed to examine the correspondence?
Mr. Flanagan: I believe that this statement that has been made by one Minister against another will have to be cleared up and I hope the Government will realise their responsibility in clearing it up, and if Deputy MacBride is guilty of any irregularities, he will be required to answer to this House.
Mr. C. Lehane: The Minister for External Affairs does not need any defence against attacks from any little whipper-snapper like Deputy Flanagan, who was never heard of until a few years ago.
Mr. Flanagan: There has been a charge made, Sir——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I must ask Deputy Flanagan to resume his seat.
Mr. Flanagan: I merely rose to say——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Not now. The Taoiseach will move the Adjournment at 7.30 and there will be a discussion then on the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Mr. Flanagan: Will we be allowed to discuss the correspondence that appeared in to-day’s papers?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The discussion will be on the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Mr. Flanagan: That is good enough; we will have the correspondence, then.
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. MacBride): The last Deputy who spoke, Deputy Oliver Flanagan, has availed of this occasion to make a dirty and slanderous insinuation against me. I shall welcome any  inquiry that this House may decide upon on a free vote.
Mr. Smith: Pontius Pilate!
Mr. MacBride: That comes very well from Deputy Smith.
Mr. Smith: Pontius Pilate!
Mr. Murphy: There is a lot of honesty over there!
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have discussion now. The discussion will be on the motion for the Adjournment, to be moved by the Taoiseach at 7.30, and the subject will be the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Captain Cowan: May I ask if sufficient time will be given for Deputies who desire to participate in this discussion to take part? I think it is vital and I certainly ask for time to discuss it.
Mr. Kitt: The lawyers will make another Locke’s Distillery out of it.
The Taoiseach: Up to 10.30 or 11.
Captain Cowan: I hope an opportunity will be given to Deputies such as I to speak on this.
The Taoiseach: That is a matter for the Chair but I am bound to warn Deputies that I will take some considerable time to deal with the misrepresentations and inaccuracies of the former Minister for Health.
Dr. Maguire: I would like to give notice that I will raise on the Adjournment the question of the protest by provincial newspapers concerning difficulty in obtaining newsprint.