Ministers close ranks behind Reilly


Fine Gael and Labour Ministers have closed ranks behind Minister for Health James Reilly following the latest damaging row with his Labour Minister of State, Róisín Shortall.

As Dr Reilly defended his decision to add two locations in his constituency to a priority list for primary care centres, Ms Shortall publicly called on him to explain his rationale. Three times when questioned by reporters yesterday, she declined to express confidence in the Minister.

In a barbed response, Dr Reilly pointed out that his junior minister had voted for him in the Dáil no confidence vote on Wednesday, adding that “actions speak louder than words”.

There were no contacts between the two politicians yesterday.

The controversy has heightened tensions within Labour, with senior party figures saying they supported his decision to add further locations to the original list prepared by Ms Shortall. Last night, however, Labour chairman Colm Keaveney said the party grassroots strongly supported Ms Shortall in her differences with Dr Reilly. Mr Keaveney said he had been inundated with calls from members praising the Minister of State for her Dáil speech. “They’re telling me she delivered her message with dignity, honesty and self-criticism and that she was faithful to her values.”

Asked about the support of Labour Ministers for Dr Reilly, he said it was a matter for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Ms Shortall’s policy differences with the Minister are likely to be raised when Labour’s executive council meets today and constituency representatives meet party leader, Eamon Gilmore. “The sentiment is that they just have to work through their policy differences and sort them out,” a senior Labour source said. “There’s a job of work to be done.”

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said it was still his party’s position that Dr Reilly should either be removed or resign from office.

Fianna Fáil yesterday wrote to the clerk of the Oireachtas Committee on Health seeking an urgent meeting with Dr Reilly and senior HSE officials regarding the development of primary care centres.

Swords and Balbriggan were among five locations added to the priority list for building new primary care centres announced by the Minister last July, The Irish Times revealed yesterday. Neither featured in lists of the top 30 locations which the HSE recommended.

Defending his decision, Dr Reilly said the original criterion for selecting the 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, he told RTÉ’s News at One.

However, Dr Reilly told the Dáil in the early summer that priority for the development of primary care infrastructure would be given to areas of urban and rural deprivation.

The comments, in answer to a question tabled by Mr Kelleher on May 23rd, appear to go against his claims that this criterion alone was too narrow to base decisions on the locations of new primary care centres.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin confirmed that Dr Reilly consulted Cabinet colleagues before determining the location of centres.