Howlin downplays Coalition tension


Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has said the Coalition is committed to sticking to its budget targets despite talk of a split in Government over cuts of €130 million to the health budget.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's Cabinet meeting, the first since the summer Dáil recess began, Mr Howlin said it was “the resolve” of every Government member to ensure the State operated within its “budgetary parameters”.

He told RTÉ News that there was no other option as “we’re living on borrowed money” and that “the people loaning us the money, the troika, are setting the terms”.

He added: “It is the resolve of Government, both parties, to ensure we continue to provide the best possible health service to everybody who needs assistance”.

Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney described the €130 million in cuts to home help and services for high-dependency patients announced last week as unacceptable and said he expected the Taoiseach to review the decision at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

Mr Keaveney said the cuts were unjust and should be reviewed by the HSE and the Minister for Health James Reilly "as a matter of urgency." He also cautioned that TDs should be prepared for an election.

Mr Howlin told RTÉ that the Government intended to serve a full term.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail today announced plans to table motions of no confidence in Minister for Health James Reilly.

Fianna Fáil said it would place the motion against Mr Reilly unless he resigns first. The party's health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, said: “Since Minister James Reilly took over responsibility in the Department of Health, it has been a story of disappointment, disruption, dysfunction and chaos.

"From his decision to fire the expert board of the HSE without having an alternative governance structure in its place, to his failure to give any leadership in the face of crippling mismanagement of the health budget, Minister Reilly has demonstrated a complete inability to lead reform of the country’s health system."

He said the recent cuts had "finally opened his Government colleagues’ eyes to the effect he is having on health services".

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin announced this afternoon the party will also table a motion of no confidence in Mr Reilly. Mr Ó Caoláin said Mr Reilly is "plunging the health services into deep crisis with the savage cuts now being imposed".

“Minister Reilly has made great play of his changes to the HSE, claiming that they will mean more direct responsibility and management by the Minister. Yet Minister Reilly left it to the HSE to announce the latest harsh cuts, and he had to be shamed out of hiding to answer the wave of justified criticism.”

Speaking this morning, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said he didn’t believe the health cuts announced last week could be reversed. “They can only be reversed if they’re going to be replaced by another form of health cuts.”

“Mr Reilly has a very tough job to do…He has to do the job within the budget given to him” and, he said, “within the confines of the Croke Park agreement.”

“We need to be straight to be and I think that people are smarter than maybe some TDs think and the know posturing and they know people throwing shapes when they see it,” Mr Varadkar told Newstalk.

The two Ministers at the centre of the health cuts row, Mr Howlin and Mr Reilly, met over the weekend to try and ease the conflict between the Coalition partners on the issue.

The clash generated weekend speculation about the prospect of an early general election but senior sources in both parties were adamant yesterday that such talk was premature.

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the Oireachtas health committee, today said it was a time for "calm and rational debate" about the issues.

The Government had been asked by the troika to make changes and to reduce the economic deficit by the end of the year, he said.

The Government would spend some €13.2 billion on health this year. But he said the nation had lost its economic sovereignty and that we must "live within the reality that we find ourselves [in]".

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