In my experience, people hate mergers. When I was working for the Ulster Polytechnic and we merged with the New University of Ulster to become the University of Ulster (a lollipop if you spotted the word common to all three titles), a lot of my colleagues were very critical of the union, as were many of the people working in NUU. But it happened because it made sense.
All that’s worth keeping in mind as we listen to the words of Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs. Roy professes to be very worried about the transfer of children’s heart surgery from Belfast to Dublin. Here’s an example of Mr Beggs’s argument:
“Whether or not the surgery was required in 24 or 48 hours, surgery was still required and therefore should be retained in Belfast.”
I expect you spotted the logic in that argument? No? Me neither. The fact is, the future of children’s heart services is being looked at by an international independent panel which will announce its conclusions in July. Which raises the question: why then is Roy citing various incidents of seriously ill babies, with the strong implication that if they don’t get their failing hearts attended to in Belfast, they will die? Why not leave it to the independent panel? Well it’s obvious. He wants to create a climate where it’s very difficult for the independent panel to come up with a conclusion that says yes, it makes sense to have a centre in Dublin rather than trying to keep going in Belfast. Every touching story that can be dragged in to touch the public’s heart-strings (no pun intended) will be valuable to Roy and those who want to resist change and keep all services in Belfast.
And why would they want to do that? (I’m tempted just to leave it with the words “Ha ha” but I won’t.) It’s because it’s a startlingly-clear example of how duplication of health services north and south of the border makes no sense. If the conclusion is that child heart surgery should be based in Dublin, people might begin to ask “And what other services would make sense to have in one place, whether that be Belfast or Dublin?” And inevitably they’d find that there were duplications all over the place, especially for people living in border areas.
Which in case you hadn’t noticed, Virginia, is one of the central arguments put forward by those who say a united Ireland makes economic sense. That’s why Roy is in there fighting. It’s like the time Martin McGuinness was made Minister for Education: “They’re putting our children in the care of that man!” Now they’re planning to take our babies from us! Stand by for an election slogan: “Defend your baby: keep Ulster British!”