Stony faces on back bench as SF grills Gilmore over Reilly
DAIL SKETCH:The Minister for Health might find himself on his own if further controversy arises, writes MICHAEL O'REGAN
IT WAS the morning after the night before in the Dáil yesterday.
The fallout from Wednesday’s statement by Minister for Health Dr James Reilly on the nursing home investment controversy was still hanging in the air. But the Opposition was largely in a tactical retreat, at least for the moment.
At Opposition Leaders’ Questions to Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, only Sinn Féin targeted Reilly, who was absent from the Government benches.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael Moynihan concentrated instead on the severe difficulties facing farmers because of the heavy rain.
Independent TD Thomas Pringle, on behalf of the Technical Group, lambasted the banks for putting people “in the glass coffin of recession”. He called for an increase in the services provided by the more trustworthy post offices.
Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien challenged Gilmore on the controversy which saw the Minister for Health return from Cyprus for his Dáil statement amid a whirlwind of allegations.
O’Brien dismissed the statement as “10 minutes of legal bluster from a bumbling Minister for Health during which he failed to answer some fundamental questions”.
Although the Minister’s name had appeared in Stubbs Gazette because he had breached a High Court order, he had given no indication as to when he would comply with it, O’Brien added.
The Minister’s declaration of interests was untrue, claimed O’Brien.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett reminded the Sinn Féin TD that the Dáil was not a court of law and that the House officials would assist him if he wanted to deal with the matter in some other procedural way.
O’Brien ploughed on, demanding to know if Gilmore shared the concerns about the Minister’s conflict of interest.
“He is presiding over hundreds of bed closures in the public nursing sector while being an acknowledged stakeholder in a private residential care home,” said O’Brien.
Gilmore chose his words carefully. “The Minister for Health made a statement to the House about those matters last night,” he said. “I accept that statement.”
While there was an occasional mutter from the Fine Gael benches, the Labour backbenchers, usually at the ready to heckle Sinn Féin, were stony-faced and silent.
When it comes to the political war instigated by the Reilly controversy, Labour TDs are non-combatants, watching silently from the sidelines.
Pressed further by O’Brien, the Tánaiste said Reilly had told the House about his efforts to dispose of the nursing home interest.
“That is on the public record and he has made that clear,” Gilmore added.
“Yes, I have confidence in the Minister for Health, as I do in all the Ministers who serve in this Government.”
The Labour backbenchers remained silent. Unusually, not a heckle was heard.
Whatever about their senior party colleagues in the Cabinet, it is clear that the Minister for Health will be on his own, as far as they are concerned, if further landmines explode in the department dubbed “Angola” by Brian Cowen.