Shortall sidelined by unwritten rules of government
As a Minister of State, Róisín Shortall had little if any patronage in the Department of Health
ONE CAN only imagine how different the story would be if this was a Fianna Fáil-Labour government rather than a Fine Gael-Labour one. Had a Labour Minister of State felt compelled to resign because of the way he or she had been treated by a Fianna Fáil minister, you could bet your bottom dollar Fianna Fáil would have come out the worst of it.
In contrast, many in the media seem to have decided it is Róisín Shortall and the Labour Party, rather than Fine Gael, that are most damaged by this week’s developments.
By the time you read this, there is every possibility that Shortall will have been out on the airwaves or in print giving a detailed explanation for her resignation. Her blow- by-blow account of life in James Reilly’s department will be fascinating whenever it comes. Until she goes public and her version of events is cross-examined, any assessment of the reasons for her resignation can only be tentative.
Even at this stage, however, an examination of the surrounding circumstances suggests this was no fit of pique on Shortall’s part or some inherent inability to cope with the constraints of junior ministerial office. Nor does it come down merely to a clash of personalities.
It was not her volcanic relationship with Reilly that led to Shortall’s resignation; it was her arctic relationship with Eamonn Gilmore. For all their warm words, Gilmore and his Labour Cabinet colleagues left Shortall out in the cold.
Shortall queried whether decisions in the Department of Health were being made not “in the public interest based on health need” but were “driven by other concerns”.
Instead of pursuing whether there was any basis to the perception that Reilly had favoured his own constituency in handing out prioritisation for primary care centres, Labour Ministers simply expressed themselves satisfied that no issue arose. Dick Spring in similar circumstances would have kicked in the doors of Hawkins House and demanded to review the files personally in the Minister’s office.
It was not until after Shortall had resigned that any explanation emerged as to why two towns in Reilly’s constituency had shot up the primary care priority list. Since last weekend Reilly and several other ministers waffled about how there was a need to add an additional 15 centres to the priority list but they could not explain how Swords and Balbriggan just happened to end up among this additional 15.
Labour’s leading figures floundered while giving different and contradictory reasons why what looked like a stroke and walked like a stroke somehow was not a stroke. Some of the reasons they provided for increasing the priority list from 20 to 35 were logical but did not answer the central question.