Taoiseach defends appointment of privatisation advocate to top public post

SF claims ‘clear conflict of interest’ in appointment to West/Northwest Hospital group

Minister for Health James Reilly ‘will make his view known very shortly’.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health James Reilly ‘will make his view known very shortly’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 01:02

Minister for Health James Reilly is treating seriously his appointment of a major figure in the private health sector to a public sector body, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

He told Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who claimed the move represented a conflict of interest, that the matter of the appointment “is serious and it is being treated seriously by the Minister for Health, who will make his view known very shortly”.

Mr Adams, however, said the Taoiseach’s statement that Dr Reilly was treating the issue seriously was “inadequate”.

He said the Minister “is the person who appointed the head of a private consultancy firm that advocates the privatisation of health services as chairman of a public health body”.

The Sinn Féin leader raised the issue during Leaders’ Questions when he said he had previously asked Minister for Finance Michael Noonan if he was aware that Dr Reilly had appointed the founder and 50 per cent shareholder of a private consultancy firm, The Health Partnership, as chairman of the West/North West Hospitals Group, a major State public health body.

Conflict of interest

Mr Adams said there was a “clear conflict of interest” in appointing someone to a public health body who promoted the privatisation of health. He said Mr Noonan had not been able to answer his question because he had not been briefed on the issue.

Asking the Taoiseach about the appointment, he said it was “one of a litany of calamities” the Minister for Health had presided over. He also pointed to concerns by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall that it was “almost impossible for his office to adjudicate on complaints” about the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards.

The Ombudsman had said this was because he was told the original files on which decisions were made about entitlement to the cards “were not available”. The Ombudsman could not establish what had happened to the files.

Mr Adams asked what had happened to the files and why they were not available.

“The Government claimed to have conducted a review of discretionary medical cards. How could it have done so if the files were not available?” he asked.

Files missing

He said it was “not good enough” that the Taoiseach was unaware the very files had gone missing on which decisions were made despite the Government parties “getting it in the neck” at the local elections.

Mr Kenny said he did not know why the files were not available “but I will have the matter checked for the Deputy”. He added that there had been no change to the criteria for medical cards since the 1970s “which is why we are moving towards an examination of the issue by a clinical panel of experienced personnel”.