Reilly 'dismantling' health service

Roísín Shortall: said a section of the Bill allows the Minister "to appoint the first director general without regard to the normal recruitment procedures". photograph: bryan o'brien

Roísín Shortall: said a section of the Bill allows the Minister "to appoint the first director general without regard to the normal recruitment procedures". photograph: bryan o'brien

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

Former minister of state Roísín Shortall launched a blistering attack on Minister for Health James Reilly, claiming he was going to “completely dismantle our public health service and send it into freefall”.

She described his legislation on health service governance as a “face-saving exercise”, and said the transfer of responsibility for the health service’s €13 billion annual budget to the Department of Health would result in the Minister having “complete control over the health service”, with no checks and balances for good procedures and governance.

Dr Reilly would have direct control over operational matters and this might be acceptable if the Minister’s directions related to principles. “But we know from bitter experience, however, that neither the Minister nor his Cabinet colleagues operate on the basis of transparency and prioritisation when it comes to health spending.”

She added that it would be the “height of folly and highly irresponsible for this House to give these wide-ranging and unfettered powers to a Minister whose track record already concerns us”.

The Dublin North West TD, who resigned as minister of state for health in a controversy over primary healthcare centres in Dr Reilly’s constituency, was speaking during a Dáil debate on the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill, which replaces the board of the HSE with a number of directorates, reporting directly to the Minister.

‘Good standing’

In trenchant criticism of the Minister, Ms Shortall said he had sacked the HSE board in April 2011, but had never explained why he had done so when it was made up of “very public and well-known people who were of good standing”.

She said the legislation was a face-saving exercise for the Minister to retrospectively put in place a corporate governance structure the HSE did not have because of Dr Reilly’s actions.

A section of the Bill allows the Minister “to appoint the first director general without regard to the normal recruitment procedures”.

Ms Shortall said when the Minister received his Cabinet colleagues’ approval for this power he withheld from them the fact that the incumbent HSE chief executive, Cathal Magee, had already tendered his resignation.

She said it was wrong in the first place to allow a Minister to “appoint his own man” to such a senior public office, but it was “highly questionable” to provide for this in law when he failed to reveal information “material to the content of the Bill” to Cabinet colleagues.

Very high pay

She believed it created a “very dangerous precedent”, and was part of a pattern where Dr Reilly appointed many senior people without open competition, “under quite unorthodox employment arrangements” on very high pay, and the Bill created three more jobs with no clarity about the recruitment.

She described the accountability process for the directorate as “unworkable”.