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Tuesday 30 September 2014

McGuinness stands over call for health duo to resign

Taoiseach: PAC chief playing politics

Lise Hand and Niall O'Connor

Published 14/06/2014 | 02:30

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John McGuinness
John McGuinness
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren

A war of words has erupted between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over claims that two of the country's most senior health officials should resign.

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Mr Kenny said PAC chairman John McGuinness had "over-politicised" his position as head of the spending watchdog by calling for the resignations of HSE chief Tony O'Brien and the Secretary General of the Department of Health, Ambrose McLoughlin.

Mr McGuinness's unprecedented call, made at a highly charged PAC meeting on Thursday, has raised eyebrows within government circles.

And the remarks have now prompted a terse response from Mr Kenny, who accused the Fianna Fail TD of overstepping the mark.

"I do think that comments made by the chairman of the PAC have over-politicised the issue. There are other opportunities for people to determine and to set out their case as to the effectiveness of their duties," the Taoiseach said at a British Irish Council meeting in Guernsey.

"But the chairmanship of the PAC was always independent and I regret that it's been over-politicised by these comments," he added.

The call for the resignations of Mr McLoughlin and Mr O'Brien came amid growing pressure on Health Minister James Reilly, who faces being sacked in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.

The pair are both close allies of Dr Reilly and are understood to have been left stunned by Mr McGuinness's call for them to quit.

The Carlow/Kilkenny TD made the remarks after it emerged that the HSE is heading towards a €500m cash shortfall by the end of the year.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr McGuinness strongly rejected Mr Kenny's claim that he has "over-politicised" the committee.

"Had the Taoiseach been in the country, listening to PAC, he'd hear me state that this is not political. It's the business of the PAC to question accounting officers that are well paid to manage the taxpayers' money. In this instance, it's clear they got the budget wrong for the last number of years, and they've continued to get it wrong. They've now indicated that they could be €500m over budget by end of year, that's not acceptable," he said.

"I'd say to the Taoiseach, that's not politics, that's accountability for taxpayers and that's the job of the PAC. Maybe the Taoiseach should have a look at the transcript and then come back to me."

Criticised

Mr McGuinness said he is standing by his call for both health officials to step down.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy strongly criticised Mr McGuinness over the remarks.

"It's not on. The PAC is meant to take a dispassionate view of these things and establish the facts of the matter."

Labour TD Robert Dowds added: "Mr McGuinness should look into the heart of his own party – the one he wants to lead. Fianna Fail was the party that set up the HSE."

Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton told the Irish Independent that the PAC is "not in the job of hiring and firing".

"The chairman's comments don't represent my views or that of many of the committee," he said.

Irish Independent

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