Howlin says his department’s role is to vet Reilly proposals

Minister says warnings over cost of health plans contained in letters are part of normal process

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin: denied there are tensions between him and Minister for Health James Reilly

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin: denied there are tensions between him and Minister for Health James Reilly

Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 15:58

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has said his department’s assertion that universal health insurance poses a the risk to the financial stability of the State is just part of the normal process of drafting policy.

Mr Howlin also said the initial exchanges between his department and the Department of Health, reported in The Irish Times, are an early part of a “ongoing process”.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Enfield, Co Meath, the Wexford TD said he had yet to see a letter from Dr Reilly’s officials which accuses his department of trying to “frustrate” health reform and making “exaggerated” claims.

Mr Howlin also denied there are tensions between him and Minister for Health James Reilly, and claimed he had not seen his department’s strident criticisms of Dr Reilly’s signature health policy.

“I have been a strong supporter of UHI, as has the [Labour]party, since my own time in the Department of Health and it is an agreed part of the Programme for Government,” he said.

“There has been an interaction at official level as has been the absolute norm in relation to costings, structures and so on and that’s an ongoing process so I am surprised to see that early interaction at official level migrating itself into the national papers today.

“My department has a responsibility to look at the costings of every proposal. It’s part of a process, it’s not a finished or polished issue.

“There’ll be lots of dialogue before it gets to a political level for a programme or a proposal that is as important to the Government as this one is, one of the bedrock issues that both parties are agreed upon.”

Amid increasingly bitter exchanges between the two departments, Mr Howlin said on a “personal level”, he and Dr Reilly get on “extremely well”.

“But on an official level, I have to interact with every line minister. My job is to ensure that the fiscal recovery that we’ve had, the great progress we’ve made is sustained. We’re not going to make mistakes like what happened in the past.”

He would not be drawn on whether his department’s views on UHI reflected his own personal opinions on the policy, which was a key plank of the Fine Gael General Election manifesto in 2011.