Devil is in the detail as Reilly’s figures add up to the number of the beast

A probity drive is reducing the huge number of medical cards in the system by weeding out people who don’t meet the eligibility requirements

Dr James Reilly

Dr James Reilly

Thu, Oct 17, 2013, 01:01

They’re putting a price on probity. But it’s got nothing to do with the eventual cost of the tribunals. Or proper accountability of the Government to the Dáil, for that matter.

Or Ministers favouring projects in their own constituencies.

It’s to do with reducing the huge number of medical cards in the system by weeding out people who don’t meet the eligibility requirements and reducing headage payments to GPs for cards no longer in use.

So it’s a “probity” drive in the Department of Health. Ring-fenced in Hawkins House. A Government wouldn’t want to be going mad with this probity thing. You’d never know where it might end.

It was probably a wise move not to leave the Minister for Strokes in charge of coming up with the final figure.

It’s going to be €113 million. Minister for Health James Reilly doesn’t know how that total was reached. He says “the Government” gave it to him.

The issue of the reduction in medical cards was up for discussion on the morning after Budget 2014. The House was kindly treated to the details after the media had been given a look.

“WikiLeaks is in the ha’penny place after the leaks about the budget,” complained Mattie McGrath (Ind).

“I heard the entire budget on Sean O’Rourke’s programme yesterday. I know he is trying to outdo Pat Kenny but he had the entire budget, line for line and syllable by syllable . . . It’s making a farce of this House.”


Robust defence
The Taoiseach was joined by the Tánaiste – on a rare Wednesday-morning Leaders’ Questions outing – and they robustly defended their budget.

Micheál Martin concentrated on the effect the “probity” drive will have on pensioners holding medical cards. The grey vote is very important.

The Taoiseach told him that 97 per cent of pensioners will have access to either medical cards or GP cards. Changes will apply only to those at the high end of the income scale.

Not that there was any change, Enda Kenny persisted in saying.

Older people watching on television will be amazed by the Taoiseach’s ability to say “black is white”, marvelled Micheál. “That’s why older people watching here are saying, ‘What’s going on in this place?’”

Enda whipped out a copy of Fianna Fáil’s 2010 budget to show what outrages they had planned for the elderly, sparking a competitive bout of cuts comparisons.

While Micheál Martin cherished the over-65s, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald opted for the under-25s end of the market.

By cutting their jobseekers’ allowance, the Government was indulging in a “brazenly discriminatory measure” and had chosen “a policy of forced emigration for our young people”, she said.

“The Ryanair budget,” chimed in Michael Healy-Rae, just as said airline was preparing to announce it would be creating 1,000 jobs as a result of the abolition of travel tax.

“I regard the Young People as our future,” bridled the Taoiseach, who said last Saturday “the future is where we all have to live”.


Potential
Unlike Mary Lou, he doesn’t want the younger generation “confined” to life on the dole. He wants to give them the incentive to find work or education and thus go on to fulfil their potential.

Then Enda lobbed in a sneaky grenade: “I understand the allocation in Northern Ireland is approximately €65 for a young person under 25.”

Mary Lou, voice dripping with sarcasm, announced her delight at hearing the Taoiseach acknowledge that young people actually want to work and aren’t “some type of layabout generation”.

But he should ease up on “the waffle and baloney” about young people when his Government comes up with “half-baked Mickey Mouse schemes” to improve the live register figures.

Enda wasn’t having that.

“How dare Deputy McDonald stand up in the house of parliament and insult our young people and state they are involved in Mickey Mouse schemes . . .”

“From a Mickey Mouse Government. Correct, Taoiseach.”

“. . . when clearly they lead on to opportunity and employment, which is what Deputy McDonald should be putting forward. Not one constructive suggestion from her.”

Pearse Doherty (SF) waded in: “From the man who held two jobs for 30 years. He kept a young person out of a teacher’s job for about 30 years.”

Bernard Durkan (FG): “He did not.”

Pearse Doherty: “He did.”

James Bannon (FG): “Find the bodies you buried.”

Meanwhile, across the city in Newstalk, the Minister for Health had finished his interview, with nobody any the wiser as to how the “probity” drive imposed on him by “the Government” would yield an oddly precise €113 million from the medical card scheme.

Maybe his newly appointed post-troika, overlords from the Taoiseach’s department and Expenditure and Reform – the ones he “invited” in to examine the books – were just having a little joke.

Because when all the cuts and savings required of Reilly’s department are totted up, the total comes to a nice round €666 million.

Six, six, six. Ominous, that.

Poor James. Who said accountants don’t have a sense of humour?