Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Valerie Finan, of the Save Our Cancer Services-NW campaign, to the Martin McGuinness public meeting held in Sligo
“My story begins in 1952 when this republic was just 3 years old. In many ways I've seen the growth and story of this land as I have seen the growth and story of my own children. Like any parent would of a wayward son, I can only weep and despair for the wayward path my country has rambled down.
The early years of this state was full of hope and promise-a clean page on which to write our own story, in our own way, free of oppressive influences, free of corrupt ideas of empire and exploitation. Yet now we have invited all that back into our lives, encouraged it even. Just like we were led out of the frying pan by our rebellious leaders in the first half of the last century, we have been led into the fire in the 21stcentury by malfeasance. But the corrupt and despotic regime this time is a far more subtle oppressor. Not draped in a flag but clad in an expensive suit. Not enforced by an armoured car but by a stroke of a pen, a malignant policy, or a caution thrown to the wind.
In 2007, I was diagnosed with having breast cancer. It was a day that shook my life. Like most people would, I turned to the state for protection – for it had promised to protect me. Under Article 40 the state is bound to protect "the personal rights of the citizen", and in particular to defend "the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen". This entity that we call the state is an idea until an instrument is created to give it a ground in reality. In my story, the HSE was the instrument in question which by proxy had promised to defend my life. I was lucky enough to enjoy the services which Sligo General Hospital was able to provide at the time. I am fully healthy now. I was lucky enough not to be a victim of some rogue cells. My experience of the treatment I received exposed me to some harsh truths about the protection afforded by the state. Although I survived, something died in me back then: my complacency. After all I went through I could no longer stand idly by and let my fellow citizens suffer more and more at the hands of an uncaring state and state instruments. There are more like me, it’s up to everyone here to realise who they are.
The State, and those who run it, no longer care for us. It has new priorities: the economic interests of the already affluent. Gone are the days of the revolutionary policies of Noel Browne where the people came first regardless of the cost. Now in government, we don't have elected officials, we have corporate representatives. How can anyone disagree after all we have seen in recent years? The Golden Circles, Charlie's shirts and the push for privatisation by Mary Harney
Privatisation of vital services is not done for the good of anyone's health. In a world where patients mean profit, a morbid entrepreneurship follows. A private company exists solely to make a profit, therefore it is not in the public interest that a company should exist which would prosper on sickness. Healthcare is far too important an issue to be left in the hands of private industry. Would we put the Gardaí or the army in such a position? Anyone can see this conflict of interest. The protection of a citizen's right to life should not be outsourced, it should be prioritized, and thus improved.
Little by little this protection is falling through our fingers like grains of sand. As some people will know I endured daily trips to Galway and back for radiotherapy. Five hours on a hot stuffy bus without the provision of a nurse. Cancer patients, fighting for their lives, herded back and forth like livestock. Screening services have disappeared in my town, so the silent killer can work even more effectively against the population. Our right to life trod on at a time when we need it most.
Maybe it's because we're not profitable that they don't care anymore. Maybe our constitution needs to be rewritten to more accurately reflect the reality of modern Ireland. Maybe it should now say “The State is bound to protect the profits and self proclaimed economic entitlements of every industry big enough to hold sway over government policy”. It may sound like a nightmarish scenario but is it not visible for anyone to see these days? Banks were guaranteed in our name and our children's names. No expense spared, no questions asked. But what was done for the other 99%? Their economic sovereignty compromised, their potential to prosper greatly curtailed. And what of the provision of healthcare? Cutbacks, reductions and belt tightening when there can't be enough given to those who hijacked every good thing about our country and drove it down that wayward path. The people, the 99% who once made our country great on the strength of their own backs are tossed aside, no longer profitable, left to die.
I watched this country grow, industrialize, modernise. I remember the time when we had nothing and I watched as we became a modern European hi tech nation. I also saw grown men and women cry as they exported their sons in the 80's. People who had worked to the bone to provide a better life for their children had to watch them take the boat, some never to return. I saw the same people enter their twilight years as Ireland entered an age of unprecedented success. Some lived the last years of their life finally seeing what seemed to be the fruit of their collective labour. They could finally live in a country of positive economic growth and they could receive the healthcare they deserved. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best standard the country had known in its short lifetime. They worked for that. I worked for that. So did you.
Surely as the years of labour and the amount of people carrying it out increase, so too should our expectations of basic vital services. Did we not earn it? If the reward for financial meltdown and economic catastrophe is millions in bonuses – surely we're not asking too much for adequate healthcare after a lifetime of work where taxes were always paid to the state that promised us our own form of bailout in our hour of need.
There are rogue cells in the body of cancer victims and they must be removed and a fight must ensue in order to survive. So too this must be done on a national level. We must ensure the survival of our republic. We must shake off the subtle oppressors who take far too much of the pie and want some more of what remains after they've thrown theirs to the floor.
The State in its current form has reneged on its promise to protect us. Perhaps it wouldn't have to if it wasn't strangled by corrupting economic influences. Perhaps it wouldn't have to if it was strong enough to say no. At this juncture it is worth highlighting that in the end it is us who decide who will run the state and its instruments and what policies are followed. It is worth remembering that we have more responsibility than we ever can imagine when we're in the polling stations. I urge you all to bear that in mind in the next local, national and presidential elections – and recall who has stood with us and who has tried to stand on top of us.”