Rank and file back Shortall in Reilly primary care row

Mon, Sep 24, 2012, 01:00

LABOUR RANK-AND-FILE members have expressed strong support for Minister of State Róisín Shortall in her row with Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly over the siting of primary care centres.

Meetings of the party’s executive board and the larger central council heard trenchant backing for Ms Shortall’s stand on the issue, according to a number of those in attendance.

One source said “100 per cent” of those who spoke when the matter came up supported the views expressed by Ms Shortall in her speech in the Dáil on the no confidence motion in Dr Reilly.

Another claimed her position as a Minister of State had been bolstered by the show of support from ordinary members. Supporters of the Dublin North-West TD used the meetings to put down a marker with the party hierarchy in case any move was made to remove her from her current post.

A number of speakers said the party had been damaged by a failure of the leadership to support Ms Shortall’s approach to the prioritisation of primary care centres and by senior Labour Ministers’ readiness to back Dr Reilly.

Together with Health Service Executive officials, Ms Shortall drew up a list of 20 priority locations for primary care centres, largely based on deprivation rates in those areas.

However, Dr Reilly later added 15 sites to the list, including two in his own constituency, and then argued this was necessary in order to improve the chance of GP buy-in at the new centres.

Dr Reilly’s move was backed by Labour Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and other Cabinet Ministers before the 35-strong list was announced last July.

Ms Shortall wrote to Dr Reilly seeking an explanation for the change to the list. She also said last Friday he needed to explain himself after details of the changes were revealed in The Irish Times.

Dr Reilly defended his decision to add to the list on Friday after the story was published. He said the original criterion for selecting the primary care centre locations was based on an index of urban deprivation. He decided to take into account other criteria, including the location of existing health facilities and accessibility to them, he said. He added that some locations on the original list had no sites available, so the “implementability of them was questionable”.

About 10 people attended the executive board, the central organisational body of the Labour Party. The meeting of the central council, which is responsible for formulating policy, was attended by about 50 party members.

Speakers at Saturday’s internal meetings also voiced concern that unnamed Labour Ministers had been quoted in the media voicing their frustration with Ms Shortall.

The two senior Ministers at the meetings, party leader Eamon Gilmore and deputy leader Joan Burton, strongly supported her work in the Department of Health.