The History Thread is back! What have you been reading? What have you been thinking about? Tell us here!
As the long-term effects of COVID-19 become more apparent, I’ve been thinking about diseases of the lungs. The Irish Times had an article this weekend about Dr Noël Browne, Irish Minister for Health from 1948 to 1951 who led a successful campaign against the tuberculosis epidemic that had dogged Ireland since the 1890s. Browne had seen both his mother and his father killed by tuberculosis when he was a child. He also had it himself. Yet through his efforts, by 1960 the death rate from TB was less than a seventh of what it had been in 1951.
Browne, however, was brought down by a very Irish scandal. In 1950, he proposed a scheme for free, universal healthcare access for mothers and children under sixteen, without any means testing (the “Mother and Child Scheme”). Unfortunately, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid saw this as the beginning of the slippery slope to birth control, and spoke out against it. The Church of Ireland also turned against it. Doctors claimed it would turn them into civil servants and their representative bodies were hostile to it. The terms “socialised medicine” and “communism” began to be thrown around. Browne’s own party turned on him and ultimately, Clann na Poblachta leader Seán MacBride demanded Browne’s resignation as Minister for Health and that was that. A much watered-down version was introduced by a later government, but the Mother and Child Scheme, something as simple as free healthcare for women and children, was too radical for its time and place.