Another bad week for Reilly
SOME POLITICIANS might dream of staying in the headlines every day, but not if it involves the kind of publicity that Minister for Health James Reilly has been getting of late.
On his watch as Minister over the past 18 months, the health service has lived up to its reputation as a place of intrigue, wracked by divisions and beholden to vested interests.
Angola Mark 2 is the nickname of choice these days for the Department of Health, which was first likened to the African country by former minister Brian Cowen for its ongoing obsession with political infighting.
Last week was another bad week for Dr Reilly, one which began hopefully with a long-overdue deal with hospital consultants over working hours but ended with the Minister losing while explaining his decision to site two primary care centres in his Dublin North constituency.
That controversy refocused attention on the dire relationship between the Minister and Labour Minister of State Róisín Shortall, who did most of the spade-work in selecting priority locations for primary care centres and was not best pleased to see this overturned by her boss in Hawkins House.
The continuing rows between Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall are usually depicted in terms of a personality dispute, and there is no doubt that the two are ill-matched to share a room, let alone a Government department. However, there are serious policy and ideological issues that divide the two politicians, as Ms Shortall identified during her speech in the no confidence motion in Dr Reilly during the Dáil last week.
Ms Shortall wants an emphasis on State-run and developed projects, priority given to deprived areas and the maintenance of current entitlements.
Dr Reilly prefers more private sector involvement and has shown great forbearance with drug companies and consultants in the light of the urgent need to make cost savings.
The rest of the Cabinet, conscious of the unrelenting focus on problems in the health service, just want the two to get on, a wish unlikely to be granted anytime before or after Christmas.
Meanwhile, Dr Reilly’s personal business issues haven’t gone away. Having made an unwelcome and unprecedented appearance in Stubbs Gazette earlier this year, he has yet to succeed in divesting himself of his share in the Co Tipperary nursing home that caused the problem. Dr Reilly has also been unsuccessful in trying to sell off his share of a primary care site in Swords which is probably worth a fraction of what he paid for it.