independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Reilly was 'screwed over' by Labour, claim Fine Gael TDs

Health Minister James Reilly

FINE Gael TDs are blaming Labour ministers for Health Minister James Reilly getting "screwed over" in the Budget.

Dr Reilly has been tasked with bringing in €666m in cuts, and Fine Gael backbenchers are worried that the clampdown on medical cards, as well as other health cuts, could be political "dynamite" in the long run.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) now has three weeks to decide how the cuts will affect its services next year, and this will be outlined in its annual service plan.

The medical cards issue will be brought up at the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning

Dr Reilly's own cabinet colleagues admitted that the €113m worth of savings earmarked to be achieved after "probity" tests of medical cards was a big ask.

The Government said this would involve rooting out redundant medical cards, such as for people who may earn enough money not to need one, or for others who have left the country.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday denied this would turn into a "witch hunt".

"It'll be challenging," said one minister, while another described the figure as "ambitious". But there is also anger at what some see at Social Protection Minister Joan Burton getting more leeway with her budget because of help from Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, her Labour colleague.

Another Fine Gael cabinet minister said of Dr Reilly: "Joan has f***ed him over and Howlin has f***ed him over."

SYMPATHY

TDs also said Dr Reilly was getting sympathy "even from those who don't personally like him" with people saying: "Ya know, Reilly got a bum deal."

Another TD said there were worries over the medical card savings because "the Budget didn't give any detail".

"The HSE service plan in 20 days might be scary and the medical card review is potentially dynamite. I'm not James's biggest fan but he was screwed over."

The issue was also brought up at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night.

Dr Reilly yesterday defended his figures, particularly the €113m, which he said was given to him by the Government.

"These were the figures that were given to us by the Government and this is the cap within which we have to operate," he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

However, others said Dr Reilly first presented the figures at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"There is a Pricewaterhouse- Coopers report which indicates there is anything between €60m and €200m to be achieved in probity," Dr Reilly said.

"We have to validate all of this, but taking that point seemed like a reasonable point to take. That's the target we've been set and we'll work within that target."

Officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Public Expenditure will help draft the HSE service plan and sources close to Dr Reilly suggested this would give him political cover when there was public uproar over the level of cuts.

Sources said this would ensure Mr Kenny and Mr Howlin were brought into "the Department of Health to take ownership of the consequences of the cuts they are imposing".

By Fiach Kelly  Political Correspondent

Irish Independent

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