Government throws in towel on perfection

Wed, Nov 7, 2012, 00:00

DÁIL SKETCH:“You’ve more cheek than the backside of a retired jockey.” The response of Labour’s Colm Keaveney last night to remarks from Mattie McGrath (formerly of Fianna Fáil) during a debate on pensions and retirement lump sums for politicians.

But let’s get away from the depressing talk of pensions and bonuses and fat cat salaries – it was bankers’ remuneration during Leaders’ Questions – and celebrate a good day in the political life of the Minister for Health.

We always knew he was good at the strokes, but this one is a triumph.

Not only did he get to make the announcement about the new children’s hospital, he also managed to have it named after himself.

Well done, Dr Reilly.

James’s hospital it is so.

How did Enda miss that opportunity? It’s very rare these days that a major announcement takes place in Government Buildings without the involvement of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

No sign of either of them yesterday.

Usually at these events – particularly if good news is involved – Enda and Eamon pull rank on the Minister who worked to bring it about and turn up at the launch to take their glory.

And here we were, with a decision at long last on the location of the new children’s hospital. Building to begin as soon as possible, subject to planning and a few little bits and pieces.

A decision worth shouting about, one would have thought. Who isn’t in favour of getting this facility built? Full steam ahead for the children! With the Cabinet coming over all decisive yesterday morning and giving Dr Reilly the green light, we fully expected to see Enda and Eamon tootling towards the top table for the press conference.

Instead, he had the gig to himself. That’s not to say James was alone, because he wasn’t.

To one side of him sat Labour’s Alex White, who looked worried and didn’t say a word.

Junior minister White has a very dangerous job, which entails flinging himself between Reilly and Labour in the event of another ministerial blow-up, thus shielding his party from the blast.

He’s like a coiled spring is poor Alex.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, sat on the other side. She also looked worried and didn’t say anything either.

You can’t blame the woman. Frances has been doing Trojan work during the children’s referendum campaign. It was very brave of her to turn up at all yesterday.

She must have been terrified that John Waters would arrive and start shouting at her. Again.

Dr Reilly was hugely pleased to announce it was full steam ahead on the project.

It’s about time he had something to smile about.

“I think this is really a great day, but it’s only the beginning of a process,” he declared through ginger bristles and cheery crinkles.

Dublin’s south inner city is to have James’s Hospital for adults, and, alongside it, James Hostipal for children. But just the hospital and hostipal for now. An adjacent maternity facility is still a twinkle in the minister’s eye.

Somebody asked him if the new plan for a national paediatric facility was “bulletproof”. “In as much as it can be,” replied Reilly.

Which might explain the absence of those chronic limelight stealers, Enda and Eamon. Their media people and some of their advisers lurked in the back of the hall.

Perhaps the pair are still a bit wary of their gaffe-prone health minister. Had they come along, would they have ended up sitting beside Dicey Reilly or St James? Time will tell. The good doctor seems confident, though.

While someone at the press conference mentioned the primary care centres – where Dr Dicey’s reputation as a stroke specialist was forged – nobody asked him if he had remembered the criteria that was used to select them.

So it was a good afternoon for him, what with the new facility named after him and all – James’s Hostipal.

He also gave us a very interesting insight into how the Government works, and much food for thought as a result.

In fact, we may have been too harsh on Enda and Eamon and their Ministers in these past 18 months since they assumed office.

It was a little line used by the Minister for Health to explain why the choice of location for the new hospital may have some drawbacks and might not tick all the boxes in the shining ideal of a great new children’s hospital for Ireland.

The road to yesterday’s decision has been a long and difficult one. But a decision had to be made, and sooner rather than later.

As James Reilly put it, he didn’t want “perfection to get in the way of excellence”. Suddenly, during a very dull Leaders’ Questions, as we watched Enda and his sullen-looking Ministers, the penny dropped.

People have been unfairly saying that his Government is strong on style but short on substance.

With the announcement of the children’s hostipal, we may be seeing a major change of approach here.

Forget perfection. This Government is now going to concentrate on being merely excellent.

It’s a comedown.

But we’ll try to live with it.