Taoiseach backs Reilly over medical card controversy

Kenny acknowledges awarding and centralising of discretionary medical cards ‘very uneven’

Minister for Health James Reilly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health James Reilly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 19:28

The Taoiseach has backed Mr Reilly over the medical cards controversy, saying Cabinet decisions were made collectively and that he had confidence in all Cabinet members, including the Minister for Health.

The embattled Minister for Health James Reilly had apologised to Fine Gael colleagues for the handling of the medical card crisis at last night’s meeting of the parliamentary party.

However, sources at the meeting said he appeared to blame the Cabinet, and said a “political will” and consensus among Ministers to fix the issue had only emerged in recent weeks.

The mood at the gathering of Fine Gael TDs and Senators was described as “tense” one of “exasperation” by a number of those who attended.

“He apologised for the hurt caused to people who were upset, concerned, discommoded and scared,” one TD said.

Dr Reilly stressed that the health budget had been agreed by Cabinet and not formulated by himself alone.

This evening the Taoiseach Enda Kenny backed Mr Reilly over the controversy, saying Cabinet decisions were made collectively.

“I have confidence in Government and I have confidence of all the Ministers in Government,” said Mr Kenny on a trade mission to the US.

The Taoiseach noted a new panel had been appointed with terms of reference to report back by September on how medical card needs should be taken into account in the context of medical card eligibility.

Mr Kenny said that the panel would assess how people who have to deal with medical conditions “might benefit in the best way from medical card coverage”.

“This is an issue that has been brought to light over the past period and it is one that the Government is proceeding to deal with both in respect of discretionary cards and in the analysis of the medical card cover is granted in the first place,” he told reporters during a visit to the offices of Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto during his three-day visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Mr Kenny acknowledged that the awarding and centralising of discretionary medical cards had been “very uneven” and that this had “caused a great deal of anxiety for very many people.”

The consultation panel is “experienced and has a great deal of expertise available to it”, he said.

Earlier, Dr Reilly had said he had the Taoiseach’s support but did not have the support of others in the Cabinet, and blamed the review of medical cards on a “budgetary decision”.

Some of those present took his comments as a criticism of Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin. Dr Reilly also claimed there was “no more room” for further health cuts.

He referred in passing to his adult son Jamie, who has autism, saying he understood the impact of disability in the home.

While some backbench Fine Gael TDs have been critical of Dr Reilly this week and called for him to step aside, no backbencher did so at the meeting.

The so-called ‘five-a-side’ group of younger TDs also stayed silent for the second week in a row.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was not in attendance as he is on a jobs mission to the West coast of the US.

Mayo TD John O’Mahony, who was present, this morning stressed the importance of “holding our nerve” on the issue. “I would be one of those who would be saying that we need to deal with the issue. It’s time for holding our nerve and making whatever changes are necessary,” Mr O’Mahony said.

“The best way is to concentrate on the solution rather than the problem and clear up the issue. It’s only by dealing with that, rather than speculating who is going to be reshuffled or change, that there will be a solution and security for the people that are affected.”