Minister for Health James Reilly has said there is no documentation to suggest that the HSE agreed to top-up payments made to Central Remedial Clinic executives.
“In relation to the allegations that the HSE were aware and had agreed to this, there is no documentation to support the fact that the HSE agreed to this at any juncture,” he said.
Dr Reilly said he would not set up an independent inquiry into the top ups controversy on the basis that an internal inquiry was ongoing.
“I think it is important that the process I commenced last year is allowed to come to its conclusion before we start calling for inquiries. We have revealed a huge amount of information here. We are bringing transparency to the system and that transparency is now bringing accountability and that will result in a much fairer system,” he said.
The Minister said that at a meeting yesterday he was briefed by the director general of the HSE, Tony O'Brien who told him that he had "17 top people" in the HSE working across the Section 38 agencies, a term which encompasses voluntary hospitals and other independent health agencies which receive funding from the Department of Health.
“This issue is seen as critically important to them...there isn’t one rule for one group of people and a different rule for everybody else,” he said.
Mr Reilly said the Department of Health would use mechanisms available to it, including the service level agreement to ensure that pay caps are adhered to.
However, he said any actions would not impact on service user. “I don’t believe that the past method of dealing with situations like this, where funding was cut to the institution which hurt the individuals who are being served by that institution, is correct. Let us punish those who are in breach,” he said.
Mr Reilly's comments appear to contradict those made yesterday by a former chair of the CRC, Des Peelo, who said that two of the "very top people" in the HSE attended a meeting in 2009 at which privately-funded top-up payments for nine people in the organisation were agreed to.
Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1 Mr Peelo said that, in a meeting held in June 2009, the HSE had agreed to fund the salaries up to the end of that year after which point the difference over and above the HSE-funded portion of the salaries would be funded privately.
He said the HSE was “fully aware” of this arrangement and that “every year since 2010 the HSE get a list of salaries and they know about it...it’s been fully on the record and agreed with the HSE”.
When asked by Mr O’Rourke if this was “in writing?” Mr Peelo replied: “Yes in writing.”
The HSE also disputed Mr Peelo’s comments saying that top-up payments for senior staff in the CRC were “not at any stage agreed to or sanctioned” by it.
Mr Peelo could not immediately be reached for comment on Dr Reilly's statement this afternoon. Speaking in Japan, where he is leading a trade delegation, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Section 38 agencies must "answer up" in scheduled meetings with HSE.
“You cannot have a situation where ordinary citizens give their hard-earned money through direct debit, flag days, subscriptions or whatever method, and they give that money on the understanding that it is going to go for charity purposes, for which it is intended. Those people who make those donations never intended that their money be used for top-up purposes,” he said.
“Therefore, the (Minister for Health) has given an instruction to the HSE to find out the complete truth of the entire picture and deal with this matter comprehensively and effectively. And I hope that that will be brought to another stage next week when they are called in before the HSE to answer up,” he said.
Yesterday the Minister for Health announced senior managers in the HSE would be meeting with individual agencies from next week.
The Taoiseach added: "There are charities in Ireland in very difficult circumstances now that are certainly feeling the pressure because of these top up payments. And there are sizeable numbers of charities that depend exclusively on voluntarily fundraising which monies are channelled to what they are intended to be: facilities for children and people who need them."
Yesterday Deirdre Garvey, chief executive the Wheel, a network representing over 930 charities, said it would be a "terrible consequence" people and communities served well-run charities, if the "justifiable shock and anger caused by these recent revelations were to affect the fundraising, or the reputation of charities in general".
“These organisations are reliant on public generosity and support, and the issue currently in the spotlight has no bearing on the overwhelming majority of charities,” she said, adding that the revelations about top-up payments for senior executives related to a very small number of voluntary healthcare-providers.