White can do no wrong in Enda’s eyes

Calamity incommunicado

Alex White, Minister of State at the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Alex White, Minister of State at the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


Thank heavens for Alex – Enda’s white haired boy.

He’s very bright, you know.

He’s a lawyer. And a senior counsel, to boot.

He’s taken silk.

Enda thinks Alex is great. Just the man to rescue the Department of Health. Calamity James might be in charge, but in fairness, he’s only a doctor.

Where would the government be without Alex White?

”Promote him!” shouted the Opposition.

The Fianna Fail leader was so dazzled by the Taoiseach’s high praise for the exploits of his Labour Minister of State in the war-torn enclave of Hawkins House that he inadvertently referred to him as “Minister Right.”

Which wasn’t wide of the mark, as White can do no wrong in Enda’s eyes.

No matter which way you turned yesterday, it was all about Alex.

If it wasn’t a successful Premiership manager calling time on a glittering career it was a junior government player successfully managing to impose a game plan on a ministerial misfit.

We’d missed James Reilly.

It’s been a while since the Minister for Health blundered across Leaders Questions in the Dail. Opposition strikers eyed his return with relish, because mention of poor aul Dicey Reilly invariably presents them with the political equivalent of an open goal.

This time, he was in the spotlight following the news that the government is abandoning a much-vaunted election promise to extend free GP care to tens of thousands of people with long term illnesses.

This, despite numerous assurances from Calamity over the two years and a half years since the coalition took office that the plan was well on the way to delivery and due any time now.

Until Paul Cullen revealed in yesterday’s Irish Times that the minister’s scheme is a dead parrot. It is no more. Ceased to be. Expired.

Michael Martin kicked the carcase. There is no legislation, he pointed out. No talks were ever held with the Irish Medical Organisation about the proposal. The free GP promise has never been delivered.

Well, yes, and no, replied Enda.

”Minister White is dealing with this matter very effectively” he began, going on to explain that when Alex took over from Roisin Shortall (who sat quietly in the chamber wearing a martyred look) he took a closer look at the situation. And Alex, being a lawyer, threw a gimlet eye over the proposals and realised that complex legislation would be needed to bring in free GP care for those with long term illnesses.

He told his colleagues about this at a recent meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on Health. And he said it would be better to take a long term look at the pledge to eventually roll out free GP care for all and devise legislation to deal with the entire process in one go.

Minister Reilly, and the rest of the cabinet, must have been very shocked to hear this. Two and a half years down the line.

When Alex “validly pointed this out” said Enda, it was decided to hold back and take a proper run at the legislation.

Three cheers for Alex. Because there don’t appear to be any lawyers hanging about the Department of Health who might have offered similar advice, and far earlier.

”Where’s the minister?” came the cry from across the floor.

But Calamity James, rather like his dead proposal, had joined the political choir invisible. He wasn’t in the chamber.

Neither for that matter, was the Minister of State. At least not in person. But he could be seen in glorious colour on the monitor directly opposite the Taoiseach, which was showing proceedings in the Seanad. And Alex, at that moment, was addressing the Upper House.

The Dail was experiencing a White out.

Micheal Martin marvelled at Enda’s reply. He had managed to give it without once mentioning Dicey Reilly but managing to namecheck Alex White on numerous occasions.

When would the Taoiseach realise that James Reilly is not the man to lead the Department of Health, demanded the Fianna Fail leader.

Enda said James Reilly had his full support, and added that his government’s commitment to roll out universal free GP care was still in place.

But apart from stating that the plan is still in place, he conceded that the Irish Times report was spot on.

”Most of the story is almost entirely accurate”

Scribes on the press gallery who hadn’t fainted whipped out their rifles and took aim at the pigs gliding in the thermal updrafts from Enda’s unprecedented declaration.

The TDs were stunned.

You can’t be saying things like that, Enda!

Then Gerry Adams got in on the act. Sometimes a politician has to take the easy way.

”Your loyalty to Minister Reilly is commendable” said the Sinn Fein leader, but it didn’t take away from the fact that Dicey “has been an unmitigated disaster.”

The scheme was dead in the water and he couldn’t believe how it took over two years to discover that there were legal difficulties.

He laid the blame at the feet of poor aul Dicey.

But Enda reiterated his support for him, while continuing to give thanks for the timely intervention of his white haired boy.

”What I am saying to the Deputy is that the Minister of State is a lawyer himself and could see from looking at the structure in place that this would cause quite complex legal problems. He decided against getting involved in that jungle...”

Oh yes, Alex could “see the legal quagmires.”

Over in the Seanad, they were preparing to throw buckets of water over the Junior Minister, his ears were burning so much.

And somewhere else, maybe in Hawkins House, they were throwing a blanket over the Calamity’s cage.