Burton says she has confidence in Reilly
MINISTER FOR Social Protection Joan Burton has expressed her confidence in Minister for Health James Reilly following the resignation of Labour party colleague Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall.
Pressed repeatedly in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath, Ms Burton said “I have confidence in Minister Reilly. I have confidence in every member of the Government.”
She also insisted Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had been “fulsome” in his support of Ms Shortall, rejecting claims he had “shafted her in public”.
During a stormy Leaders’ Questions Ms Burton formally announced that the Taoiseach had accepted Ms Shortall’s resignation. She expressed her sorrow at her departure, describing her as a “talented and compassionate woman, a person of very firm resolve and very ambitious and driven in regard to the political values in which she believes”.
United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett said Dr Reilly “should go” and he did not have the trust and confidence “of the person who worked most closely with him”.
Mr McGrath said Dr Reilly “brought about the resignation of the chief executive of the HSE, lost the CEO of the VHI and has now effectively forced out a minister of state in his own department”.
He said Ms Shortall “took a principled stand, but the wrong Minister has resigned”.
The criteria for the location of primary care centres had been “ripped apart”, and he questioned the “lack of transparency with the choice of 15 centres” added to the original list of 20 proposed centres.
Mr McGrath rejected Government claims that Ms Shortall had resigned because of a personality clash with Dr Reilly. Her resignation was over a lack of support for reforms in the programme for government.
He said “the clock is ticking” for Dr Reilly, and claimed the truth “is that the Labour Party abandoned Deputy Shortall when she was crying out for support” and the Tánaiste “shafted her in public”.
However, during repeated interventions and heckling Ms Burton insisted that Mr Gilmore was “fulsome in his support of Deputy Shortall and fulsome in his commendation of her achievements”.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Cabinet was “circling the wagons”. She told Ms Burton “you’re standing by your man despite the fact that anybody with an ounce of wit could see that the man is not a suitable occupant for that ministry”.
Referring to the singer of the song Stand by Your Man, the Minister said “I’m no Tammy Wynette”, to which Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary quipped “you’re more the diva type”.
On the selection of primary care centres, she said the departments normally involved in consultations were Finance and Public Expenditure. “Other line Ministers would not be involved in any of the detail on this issue.”
However, Mr McGrath said Dr Reilly had referred to “intensive and inclusive discussions”.
Ms McDonald said the Minister “has informed us Cabinet colleagues were not consulted in the manner in which the Taoiseach led us to believe they were”.
She said Ms Shortall had stated there was “to use common parlance ‘funny business’ going on with the list” but the Taoiseach “absolutely refuted her claim and stated the criteria used had been clear and that Cabinet colleagues had been consulted”. Ms Burton “has now completely unpicked that version of events”, she said.
However Ms Burton insisted the criteria were very specific for the selection of primary care centres, and “the senior Minister added a series of additional locations in order to reflect further considerations”.
Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle suggested that “health policy is driven by privatisation”. People could get medical care “provided you are in the Minister’s constituency or have the ear of the Minister”.
He added that “to lose one junior minister could be seen as unfortunate but to lose two is certainly careless” as Ms Shortall’s resignation follows that of former Labour minister of state Willie Penrose.