Shortall sidelined by unwritten rules of government
On Thursday night, 24 hours after Shortall’s resignation had been announced, Reilly told the Dáil that when the Health Service Executive had completed the list of 20 primary care centres to be supported under the Government’s stimulus package, and after Shortall had signed off on the list, he had decided not only to expand the list to 35 but also to introduce a new, more complex set of criteria for selecting those to be given priority.
His new set of criteria, however, has all the signs of a mathematical equation written backwards – a rating system designed to deliver a predetermined outcome.
If the elaborated reconfiguration of criteria set out by Reilly in the Dáil on Thursday night did in fact happen and the 200 towns involved were in fact reordered and relisted in accordance with it, then there must be a pallet of paperwork dealing with this change in the department. If this documentation exists then let’s see it now. If it does not and all this was done verbally, then Reilly may have just dug a bigger hole for himself.
The most curious aspect of Reilly’s speech on Thursday night was his use of language around whether his Cabinet colleagues had been aware of the reconfiguration of the criteria. He told the House he had made the decision to expand and reorder the list in “consultation with department officials and Government Ministers”.
He told of how he had written to Shortall in July relating how a consensus “had emerged at senior ministerial level” to expand the list. He appears to suggest it was discussed with other Ministers but not at Cabinet itself. Yet, as Mary Lou McDonald has pointed out, the public utterances of Ministers such as Leo Varadkar, Pat Rabbitte and even Eamon Gilmore suggest they knew nothing of the basis for the inclusion of Swords and Balbriggan in the priority list.
Could it be that at the heart of this controversy is a cosiness between Cabinet Ministers or at least some Cabinet Ministers? Could the real explanation for what went on be the sometimes articulated but usually unspoken pact among senior Ministers about patronage which says: you can look after your constituency so long as you don’t object to me looking after mine?
Could it be that the Dublin North Minister can add two Dublin North towns to the primary care list, as long as another Minister’s constituency gets one as well, and a backbencher is shored up by getting a town on the list also?
Róisín Shortall, as a mere Minister of State with no real patronage, would have been left out of this exchange. These unwritten rules are not new to this Government; they are as old as time. It’s just that this Government promised things would be different.