Reilly stands over actions

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

Minister for Health James Reilly has insisted Fianna Fáil has "no justification" in tabling another motion of no confidence in him.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said this morning the motion will be tabled as soon as the time lapse from the party’s previously defeated vote of no confidence, which was held in September, allows. The earliest it could be held is March.

Mr Martin said the previous motion was tabled for a range of issues, but mainly due to the “chaotic and very poor way [Dr Reilly] has led health from the very beginning.”

The vote was called after it was reported that a list of primary care centre sites was altered the evening before its launch to include four new centres, two of which were in Dr Reilly’s constituency. The two centres, located in Swords and Balbriggan, were added to the priority list despite them not being located in the top 30 locations drawn up by the HSE and then minister Róisín Shortall.

Dr Reilly insisted this morning he stood by his actions. "I have made it very clear that I stand over what I did and if I had to do it all again I'd do what I did," he said in Blanchardstown in west Dublin this morning. "There is very clearly a need for primary care centres in all of the locations mentioned."

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte accused Mr Martin of “play-acting” by tabling another motion of no confidence Dr Reilly.

Howver, Mr Rabbitte conceded the Government had allowed a “good news” story about primary care to be dominated by a controversy about the locations of centres.

Mr Rabbitte said Dr Reilly had a very difficult job to do. “And I think it’s far more serious than the play-acting that Micheal Martin is engaged in,” he said.

“If you had put a motion of no confidence in health ministers in the recent past along the lines suggested by Micheal Martin, we wouldn’t have had a minister for health over 14 years. And certainly we wouldn’t have had Micheal Martin. So I’m not much influenced by that kind of play-acting.”

Asked if he had confidence in Dr Reilly, Mr Rabbitte said he did. “We did manage as a Government to convert a good news story, which was the construction of a network of primary care centres, into a controversy and that’s not an achievement that I’m proud of but that’s what happened,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said it was important that the primary care centres were put in place for the benefit of local communities and to take pressure off accident and emergency wards in hospital. “It’s important that the Minister gets on with that work,” he added.

Mr Martin said he had been looking for the information on the location of the centres for months.

“It took us some months through the Freedom of Information act to get this very basic information, which I have been asking for in the Dáil for the last number of months,” he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

“I asked the Tánaiste in the Dáil could he produce and would he publish this documentation immediately and of course they refused. The freedom of information request was delayed for a further month, which really illustrates complete contempt for the Dáil, a blatant lack of transparency and we now know why.”

Sinn Féin made fresh calls today for Dr Reilly’s resignation,

Party health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said his position was untenable following the revelations about the timing of the amendments to the primary care centre priority list. He said the plan needed to be revisited and revised in a publicly accountable way to ensure there was no bias involved in the allocation of the centres.

It emerged today Dr Reilly responded to complaints by Ms Shortall, about the selection of primary care centres last July with a letter written by his most senior civil servant.

Department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin drafted the letter sent to Ms Shortall in the Minister’s name in which he rejected her complaints about the addition of locations to a priority list for primary care centres, according to documents obtained under freedom of information.

It is unusual for the involvement of a senior civil servant in a dispute between two ministers to become known. Dr Reilly has two personal advisers as well as a media adviser.

Last July Ms Shortall provided the Minister with a list of 20 priority locations for primary care centres, largely weighted towards areas of high deprivation. However, Dr Reilly added 15 locations, including two in his constituency, before the final list was announced as part of a Government stimulus package on July 17th.

As reported by The Irish Times on Saturday, Swords and Balbriggan were added the day before the announcement, while Ballaghaderreen and Kilkenny were put on the list just hours before it was announced.

Ms Shortall said at the weekend this revelation showed “blatant stroke politics” were behind the decision. Dr Reilly “started off by assisting some of his colleagues and looking after some of his colleagues, and then at the last minute slipping in another four, two of which were in his own constituency.

“This documentation gives the lie to the many convoluted excuses and justifications that Minister Reilly and his colleagues gave in the Dáil and elsewhere to claim that there was some other criteria used . . . other than pure political patronage.”

In October Dr Reilly told the Dáil the rationale behind the decision on which primary care centres made the list was a “logistical logarithmic progression”. Ms Shortall said the documentation showed this justification to be “codswallop”.

The documents show that three days after the Government announcement, on July 20th, Ms Shortall wrote to the Minister saying she found it difficult to understand the basis on which the 35 locations were selected.

The following day Mr McLoughlin sent a draft of the Minister’s replying letter to Maureen Windle, one of Dr Reilly’s advisers. It states that Ms Shortall’s plan to propose only 20 centres would lead to a “high probability” that GPs would decline to participate in the centres. “A very strong consensus emerged at Government level that identifying 35 locations would stimulate and encourage wider interest and

The letter, which was sent unamended to Ms Shortall in Dr Reilly’s name, concludes: “I trust this brings clarity and finality to these matters.”

Another document on the file shows that public relations adviser Terry Prone sent Dr Reilly and his officials an email on October 7th last rounding up the content of that day’s Sunday newspaper stories on the primary care controversy.

Dr Reilly has been paying Ms Prone’s company, the Communications Clinic, for advice from a personal ministerial allowance outside his department’s budget. Last year the company was paid €15,000.

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