independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

'I am not at war with Reilly over universal care' – Howlin

Brendan Howlin and James Reilly

PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has denied that he is at war with James Reilly over the provision of universal health insurance.

Mr Howlin was responding to reports yesterday that his own officials had warned that the Health Minister's plan could pose a risk to the financial stability of the State.

The letter is reported to have warned that Dr Reilly's plan had the "real risk of creating a potentially open-ended financial liability for the Exchequer". It further claimed that it could add an extra €5bn to health care costs.

The criticism prompted a terse response from the minister's officials, who accused Minister Howlin of trying to "frustrate" the process of the rolling out of universal health insurance.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Enfield, Co Meath, Mr Howlin refused to deny that Dr Reilly's plan posed a risk to the State's financial stability.

But he said the issue had not yet been discussed at a "political level" and that his department had the "responsibility" to scrutinise the costings of every proposal.

"There will be lots of dialogue at an official level before it gets to a political level, for a programme and a proposal that is as important to the Government as this one is, and it is important.

"As I said, it hasn't got to a political level of discussion yet. My department officials engage, they prepare grounding documents for me, before we get to that stage.

"So as I said, my surprise, is that this early official interaction on a very important, critical policy strategy that both parties in government are fully committed to, would wind up in the national papers or the national media at this early stage."

Mr Howlin also rejected that there are increasing tensions between him and Minister Reilly.

"Not at all. On a personal level we get on extremely well. It annoys me to see it being personalised by some. In fact that is not true," he said.

Sunday Independent

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