Open letter to George Lee

Dear Mr Lee,

Unfortunately, I don’t think we have met so I will not reduce this letter to false bonhomie and pseudo-familiarity. So Mr Lee, it is.

In your resignation statement you cite your limited role in the party and “no input to economic policy formation” and your desire to contribute to economic policy as a primary motivation and purpose. I listened to you for a while on “Joe Duffy’s Liveline”, again on RTE 6 o’clock news and again on TV3 with Vincent Browne. My first reaction, on listening to you, was one of surprise, shock and empathy. I began to think that “Jasus, Enda, you screwed up there” (excuse my French). But the longer I listened to you Mr Lee, the more the gargantuan the size of your ego and your all encompassing self-belief and hubris intruded into my consciousness. I then thought, “This guy is a bit of a prat”. What magic wand of economic wisdom do you possess that points us mere mortals in the direction of economic salvation?

Have you won a Nobel prize for economics? Am I missing something here? Or were you just a guy who regularly told us on tv that Fianna Fail screwed up, merely confirming the OECD and later ESRI reports to that effect. Then you described the blindingly obvious to all except Cowen and Co – economic undertakers of Clara.

I am an economic neophyte but not so in medicine. I have watched medical specialities progress from being largely diagnosis only to being transformed by newly discovered treatments across most of the major disciplines. The improved outcomes can be measured and proven. In economics, I always admired the dry analysis of the late Paul Tansey. Paul always wrote about what it is, how we got here and what should be done.

Diagnosis without treatment is nearly useless. I am not aware of a road map set out by you for this state and its economy. Your comments and answers in your interview with Vincent Browne bordered on the anodyne. They reminded me of Momma and Apple Pie. Anyway Mr Lee, Professor Morgan Kelly of UCD has moved into the Paul Tansey spot in my brain. Read him, I have heard nothing from Brian Lenihan that remotely deals with his analysis.

I know that compared with your superstar status, I am merely a hidden carbuncle on the backside of the body politic but I do not like been ridiculed. You might say that you have not done this to me but you have sir, you have!

From the age of 5 years old, I have been interested in politics and current affairs. My first political memory is the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the feverish discussions at home by my mother and father. I remember reading the descriptions in the Irish Independent back page at the time (the news was on the back page then) – my old man being FG and my mother a rabid dev devotee.

Well Mr Lee, like you I was drawn to politics to try to change society and make things fairer. Supermac, Harold Wilson, Sean Lemass, John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Donogh O’Malley, Pierre Trudeau, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Francois Mitterand, Pope John 23rd, Indira Ghandi, Jomo Kenyatta, Michael Okpara, Justin Keating, Brendan Corish, Declan Costello, Garrett Fitzgerald, Ruairi Quinn, Dick Spring, Peter Barry, Fergus Finlay, Pat Magner, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Ted Kennedy were all significant influences on me. James Reston, Dick Walsh, Olivia O’Leary and many other journalists also played key roles in my formation. However, I have never been a mere fan, more a critical admirer of each.

I list these influences Mr Lee to let you know that influences are ingrained deeply in people like me over decades. Dogged commitment to a philosophy is important if you truly believe and are not a mere dilettante.

There are things I could not do to people, Mr Lee, because I could not look at myself in the mirror if I did. It took me 19 years from 1985 to 2004 to first get elected to Dublin City Council and I felt really privileged by the people of Finglas for the honour. I had many near misses in elections but I have an internal driving reason for persevering. By comparison, you had it easy electorally. Like you, I believe that I have something to contribute. Unlike you, I do not sulk and throw the rattler out of the pram when I feel slighted or ignored. And Mr Lee, I have been ignored by Fine Gael. In 2003, “A Cure for the Crisis – Irish Health Care in Context” was published by Blackwater Press. It was written entirely by some guy called Bill Tormey and launched appropriately by George Hook. The 50 year festschrift edition of Administration, the academic journal of the Institute of Public Administration in Lansdowne Road, carried an article by Tormey on the “Two speed Public and Private Health Service” here. That Tormey is the same Tormey who is a lowly councillor for Fine Gael on Dublin City Council. That Tormey has only been a consultant in Irish hospitals for 28 years. I also have a few Publications listed at PUBMED at the Library at the National Institutes of Health at Washington DC. But Mr Lee, I was ignored by Dr Liam Twomey, Fine Gael Health Spokesman in the last Dail! The consequences were immediately obvious to me at the press conference on health during the election. Check out the medical card for the under fives and you will see what I mean.

So Mr Lee, recently as you know, Fine Gael set up a group to develop their health policy. Alan Dukes was involved. I was not. The health plan “FairCare” emerged and is based on the Dutch model. The plan is flawed, in my opinion. I will point out this when I am ready and have the time but suffice to say that the Lancet published a critical editorial on the Dutch health system in 2009. Health insurance will not deal with the step-down and nursing home beds issue in the Dublin area unless there is a large investment made. Where will the money come from and who will pay? You can take it, Mr Lee, that I will address that issue and report to Enda Kenny and Dr James Reilly what I find and make suggestions including a prescription for cure. By the way, no health system in the world is without serious flaws. I might see Dr James Reilly as a rival in Fine Gael and I do. But he is doing a far better job than I could in opposition because I would be far more preachy and constructive. Fine Gael also has Dr John Barton, a cardiologist from Ballinasloe, on board. He would, if given the chance, be probably the most innovative health minister the country could have right now. I am not going to claim that I would be better because such an assertion is unprovable and denigratory. I know I have serious limitations.

You must have known that your actions would sound a klaxon of no confidence in Enda Kenny. Now Mr Lee, I am biased by the experience of canvassing with Kenny on the street. He is really good with people and I admire him and like him for that. I am not a sycophant and I recognise that the Bertie debate at the last general election may have dumped on me in votes’ terms but I may be wrong. It may well be that I might just be a lousy candidate.

Ray Kavanagh, ex general secretary of the Labour Party, wrote so. I have told Enda that he should get a few real Dubs as advisers and back-watchers to deflect the knives. Sometimes Enda drives me mad when he lets the stress of interviews get to him. He does drop the ball at times. If you had a problem with isolation, why not phone Enda and talk to him and tell him you wanted to see him? I have his mobile and he always answers me.

However, Mr Lee, from your comments on television, I conclude that you have a problem with Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkar and Limerick O’Donnell because they are key people in the genesis of Fine Gael’s economic policy. I never regarded you as a heavy economic commentator because I never read you in the Irish Times or other broadsheet. I rarely watch TV news. I read newspapers by the tonne. Sad B……d amn’t I?

Fine Gael would be much better with you in the Lindon Johnson position inside the tent. I wish you all the best with RTE and challenge you to publish your prescriptions for Ireland in peer reviewed academic journals.

You could start your renewed career by chairing a tv series on how to save Ireland. Your point about export driven recovery is prescient. We must get services going but selling services at home as well as overseas is crucial.

I would love to get Professor Morgan Kelly as your replacement. If I am ever elected and get ignored, I will shout from the rooftops if necessary.

I write what I think here to a tiny audience of hits. It gets frustration off my chest and sedates me. You had a major audience for your every word on TV. You could have issued press statements and continued as an unofficial analyst for Joe Public and barracked in the Dail and challenged Cowen, Lenihan, O’Dea and the others to debate with you in the open but you chose to quit sitting on your stool like Sonny Liston.

Have a good life but don’t fool yourself!

Bill is not for quitting.

Beir Bua

Bill Tormey
167 Glasnevin Avenue
Dublin 11
Still a Dublin City Councillor for Fine Gael.