Civil servant wrote Reilly reply to Shortall
Minister for Health James Reilly responded to complaints by his then minister of State, Róisín Shortall, about the selection of primary care centres last July with a letter written by his most senior civil servant, new documents show.
Department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin drafted the letter sent to Ms Shortall in the Minister’s name in which he rejected her complaints about the addition of locations to a priority list for primary care centres, according to documents obtained under freedom of information.
It is unusual for the involvement of a senior civil servant in a dispute between two ministers to become known. Dr Reilly has two personal advisers as well as a media adviser.
Last July Ms Shortall provided the Minister with a list of 20 priority locations for primary care centres, largely weighted towards areas of high deprivation. However, Dr Reilly added 15 locations, including two in his constituency, before the final list was announced as part of a Government stimulus package on July 17th.
As reported by The Irish Times on Saturday, Swords and Balbriggan were added the day before the announcement, while Ballaghaderreen and Kilkenny were put on the list just hours before it was announced.
Ms Shortall said at the weekend this revelation showed “blatant stroke politics” were behind the decision. Dr Reilly “started off by assisting some of his colleagues and looking after some of his colleagues, and then at the last minute slipping in another four, two of which were in his own constituency.
“This documentation gives the lie to the many convoluted excuses and justifications that Minister Reilly and his colleagues gave in the Dáil and elsewhere to claim that there was some other criteria used . . . other than pure political patronage.”
In October Dr Reilly told the Dáil the rationale behind the decision on which primary care centres made the list was a “logistical logarithmic progression”. Ms Shortall said the documentation showed this justification to be “codswallop”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on Dr Reilly to resign. He said the Minister’s position was “untenable”. The public had been “sold a tissue of lies” by the Government over the criteria for selection of primary care health centres, he said.
The documents show that three days after the Government announcement, on July 20th, Ms Shortall wrote to the Minister saying she found it difficult to understand the basis on which the 35 locations were selected.
The following day Mr McLoughlin sent a draft of the Minister’s replying letter to Maureen Windle, one of Dr Reilly’s advisers. It states that Ms Shortall’s plan to propose only 20 centres would lead to a “high probability” that GPs would decline to participate in the centres. “A very strong consensus emerged at Government level that identifying 35 locations would stimulate and encourage wider interest and participation.”
The letter, which was sent unamended to Ms Shortall in Dr Reilly’s name, concludes: “I trust this brings clarity and finality to these matters.”
Another document on the file shows that public relations adviser Terry Prone sent Dr Reilly and his officials an email on October 7th last rounding up the content of that day’s Sunday newspaper stories on the primary care controversy.
Dr Reilly has been paying Ms Prone’s company, the Communications Clinic, for advice from a personal ministerial allowance outside his department’s budget. Last year the company was paid €15,000.