It promises to be a momentous year for the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. As Dr Varadkar continues to wrestle with his conscience on abortion reform, he gets a visit from veteran consultant Frank Flannery, who shows him part of the hospital he hasn’t seen before.
Varadkar (entering empty ward where everything is covered in dust): Gosh. What’s this?
Flannery: The old Garret FitzGerald wing. Closed since the 1980s. God, the times we had here.
Varadkar: Who was Garret FitzGerald?
Flannery (shaking head): You kids. Don’t they teach you anything at school these days? He was the guy who made Blueshirt General what it is today. A bit eccentric. Absent-minded. Wore odd socks. His speech was like his prescriptions: indecipherable. But he kept the place going on a shoestring in the face of near-permanent emergency.
Varadkar (peering into a press marked Dangerous Substances): Er, why is a press full of Durex marked “dangerous”?
Flannery: It was the 1980s. You had to be there.
Varadkar (Picking up a thick, dust-covered file, opening it): The Kerry Babies?
Flannery: Oh God – that.
Varadkar (five minutes later): This is mad stuff. What the hell is “superfecundation”?
Flannery: It’s a condition whereby senior gardaí – that’s the “super” bit – let their imaginations run away with them. It was quite common in 1980s sex cases.
Varadkar (closing file with a shake of his head): Must have been a grim decade in general?
Flannery: It was. If you look in some of those presses, you might find reports on the search for a cure for homosexuality. That was still hope for that in certain quarters then.
Varadkar (shuddering involuntarily): And this FitzGerald guy? He was a reformer?
Flannery: He tried to be. But the fundamentalists controlled the asylum. And not just the asylum – the maternity wing too. That’s when they put the abortion ban in the hospital’s constitution, although many of us warned against it.
Varadkar (forcing open a window with rusty hinges and coughing as a gust of air blows dust in his face): Gosh. It’s windy out.
Flannery (thoughtfully) It’s the wind of change, Leo. (They exchange meaningful glances). So. Are you going to back Repeal?
Varadkar: Probably, but not yet. A little bird tells me Meehole, I mean, Dr Martin, is issuing a statement this week. I might let him go first, and draw the wrath of the fundamentalists.
Flannery: That’s good thinking. (A phone rings somewhere).
Varadkar (startled): What the hell is that?
Flannery (with a knowing smile): A thing called a landline telephone. That black object with the dial beside you.
Varadkar (picks up receiver uncertainly): Hello?
Voice in receiver: Hi Taoiseach. This is the 21st century calling. We need you in A & E now!
The A & E department, moments later. Paramedics are pinning a man to a trolley, despite his efforts to get up.
Varadkar (to man pushing trolley) What’s going on?
Mattie McGrath (for it is he): This patient needs a backbone transplant immediately.
Micheál Martin (sitting up) No I don’t. There’s nothing working with me.
McGrath (pushing him down): Yes he does. He has absolutely no trace of a spine. It’s a wonder he was able to stand at all.
Éamon Ó Cuív (restraining Martin): Not that he ever did stand for anything, really.
Varadkar: You can’t just put a new spine in someone. If he’s not used to one, he could reject it. But bring him to X-Ray and we’ll have a look. (He peers around the ward) Where did all these walking wounded come from? Was there a riot somewhere?
Triage nurse: It was a meeting of something called the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Someone started a row about abortion. It’s back-stab wounds, a few general kickings.
Varadkar: All right. Just keep them under observation for now.
Hospital corridor later. Dr Varadkar and Dr Harris walk and talk.
Varadkar: I see lots of patients on trolleys in your ward, Dr Harris.
Harris: Yes, well it’s flu season. You had a lot of them too when you were in charge here, remember? And we’re dealing with a particularly virulent strain this year.
Varadkar: Right. Speaking of strain, are we near a final wording on the other thing yet?
Harris: The other thing?
Varadkar (checking over shoulder, lowering voice): Er, abortion.
Harris: Oh yes. Still taking legal advice, but I hope to bring a formula to the January 30 meeting of the Board of Management. I see Dr Martin has already declared his support. That was quite brave, I thought.
Varadkar: Yes. Brave. Or foolhardy.
Harris: Can we expect a statement from you now too?
Varadkar: Oh, I think I’ll wait and see the final wording first. But don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll be at one on the issue. In the meantime, keep up the good work.