Multiplier effect leaves Reilly on dicey ground


DÁIL SKETCH:The Minister for Health struggles to come to grips with selection criteria for care centres

JAMES REILLY furnished the Dáil with the verbal equivalent of a doctor’s prescription yesterday – unintelligible, as opposed to illegible.

For a man so anxious to explain he wasn’t responsible for the Great Bump-Up of Balbriggan, the Minister for Health baffled and bamboozled instead of clarifying and enlightening.

Here’s the stand-out highlight from Dicey Reilly’s brain frying exercise in obfuscation: “I have laid it out three or four times to you: the criteria. They’re quite extensive criteria and, because all of them act in different ways, it’s a bit like a multiplier.

“One and one makes two and two and two make four but four by four makes 16 and not four and four makes eight and so it is with this. It’s a logistical, logarithmic progression, so there is nothing, there is nothing simple about it.”

You can’t beat a university education.

Labour’s Ruairí Quinn, who took Leaders’ Questions because the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and most of the Cabinet were on an away day to Brussels, went in to bat for his fellow Minister at the start of Dáil business. Reilly – not in Brussels but not inclined to show his face in the chamber either – was dish of the day.

Sliced, diced and served up by the Opposition after fresh information emerged about his spot of off-list skiing with the primary care centres of North Dublin. But Ruairí wasn’t concerned in the least, giving the impression he didn’t know what the fuss was all about.

“I’m quite satisfied with the information I’m getting from Dr Reilly,” said the Minister for Education, with a totally straight face.

If Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher wasn’t happy with the explanations already given by Dr Reilly, about how two towns in his constituency were bumped up a carefully compiled list of locations for these care centres, well, perhaps, he hadn’t asked the right questions.

“I’ve put down the questions, but I haven’t got the answers,” protested Billy.

Back in 1995, when Quinn was in a different government, his taoiseach John Bruton was accused of withholding information and he famously replied that the opposition hadn’t “asked the right question”. Some of the old-timers in the chamber felt a bit of a shiver when Quinn rehashed that little episode of Rainbow coalition infamy.

Was it not supposed to be different this time? So many questions about how Balbriggan and Swords slithered up the list, although Róisín Shortall resigned as Reilly’s junior minister because she thinks she knows the answer.

She insists it’s a case of “stroke politics” – Dicey diverting a little gravy to his home patch.

Judging by the private reaction of many government and Fianna Fáil deputies – not to mention a few media folk – in Leinster House over the past week, it’s just your average, run-of-the-mill “stroke.” And sure doesn’t everyone do it? Back to Quinn, who couldn’t answer most of the questions yesterday morning.

But there was one. “Am I satisfied that Minister Reilly will deal comprehensively with these issues? The answer is ‘yes’.”

After the Minister for Health’s matinee performance, you’d have to have serious questions about Quinn’s judgment. Dicey Reilly muddied and fudged comprehensively, protested ignorance and innocence vehemently and left his audience utterly confused in the process.

In fairness to Quinn, he teed things up nicely for his Fine Gael colleague by declaring that the contentious Balbriggan site had nothing to do with Dr Reilly. It was “selected” by Mary Harney when she was minister for health.

The Government backbenchers cheered and taunted. Game, set and match. Or so they thought. On to the afternoon session, with Reilly in the chamber to answer opposition concerns over the primary care centres issue. He sounded and looked strained, talking quietly as he read from a script. They say if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Therefore, when Dicey finished his opening statement, he must have been winning because there wasn’t really a proper explanation in it. All he had to do was supply an answer and accompanying documentation to show how the final list of locations was compiled. And why some, like Swords and Balbriggan, leapfrogged areas that had been considered more urgent in the original list.

But there were loads of lists, blustered Reilly, and all sorts of additional criteria, which he spoke about in incomprehensible detail, but there was no breakdown of how these criteria were applied, what marks were awarded to what locations and what weightings were used.

For all the time he has had to supply this vital information, with all his advisers and important people with access to information in the HSE, James Reilly could not explain. Apparently because the whole story has nothing to do with him.

In the morning, his defence – put forward by Quinn in the Dáil and himself on radio – seemed to be that Harney had “selected” and chose the Balbriggan site. By the afternoon, the explanation had changed. It wasn’t Harney who earmarked the site. In fact, it might have been him, but he can’t be sure.

It doesn’t matter anyway, because Dicey Reilly was certain of one thing: “I had no hand, act or part in this.” Oh dear God, we’ve getting terrible visions of Bertie at the tribunal now.

The Opposition stressed wasn’t against Swords or Balbriggan getting a centre, but what about those towns they displaced on the list of 20? Joe Higgins said the Labour Party, by standing by Reilly, had developed an “acute strain of Stockholm Syndrome”. It was unfortunate, he sighed, to see “political stroke pulling and cronyism” returning to North Dublin.

Maybe the Government is operating on a three-strokes-and- you’re-out policy. Dicey Reilly must his on a last warning, so.

“This is a situation that’s in flux,” he said.

The silence from the Government benches that greeted his statement indicated that many others are wondered if they’re going be fluxed too by the end of all this.