Health controversy that won't go away
Published 23/11/2012 | 05:00
OF all his controversies, it is the one that just will not go away for Dr James Reilly.
On top of the health service needing a bailout, his personal finances and the handling of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy, the primary care fiasco haunts him.
From bumping Balbriggan and Swords in his Dublin North constituency up a priority list, to his junior minister Roisin Shortall resigning over the affair, to one of his supporters owning the site on which a health centre will be built – just when Dr Reilly thinks he's away from the affair, it pulls him back in.
This time it's the disclosure that Ambrose McLoughlin, the head civil servant in the Department of Health, ordered an audit to "ascertain" if there were any connections between his minister and the location of primary care centres.
Mr McLoughlin was appointed secretary general on Dr Reilly's watch.
Senior civil servants may tell ministers they are obliged to warn them of pitfalls. But to launch an audit to see if there were any links between a senior minister and/or his advisors and the locations in his constituency picked for primary care centres is bizarre.
The department says the probe was into all 35 locations, but the email asks staff to "ascertain any connection that links the minister and/or his advisers in relation to the selection of the sites for the Balbriggan and Swords centres".
It was sparked by revelations in the Irish Independent that one of Dr Reilly's supporters owned the site in Balbriggan where the centre will be built.
Dr Reilly insisted he had no part in the selection of the site, and it was done by the HSE, which is what the audit found. That much is true. But he was still forced to assure Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, the Dail and a wobbly Labour Party he had no links to the selection of the site.
Now it seemed his own secretary general needed similar, independent reassurance.
Why did Dr Reilly add Swords and Balbriggan to a priority list of 35 locations for primary care centres?
The question needs to be answered of Balbriggan in particular, since it was seemingly progressing privately, without state support.
There has been no satisfactory answer so far. And that is the main issue that comes to the fore every time the controversy, never dormant for long, erupts once more.