Labour's Joan Burton insists Roisin Shortall had full support of leader Eamon Gilmore
LABOUR deputy leader Joan Burton insisted today that resigned junior minister Roisin Shortall had the support of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
Ms Burton said she was saddened and regretted Ms Shortall's decision to resign as junior health minister - but added that Health Minister James Reilly had her full confidence.
Ms Burton was taking Dail questions in the absence of Mr Gilmore, who is in New York for the UN general assembly.
She described Ms Shortall as a "talented and compassionate" woman and said she often "spoke the truth to power" about alcohol and drug abuse, but said work on building a network of primary care centres must continue.
Ms Burton said Mr Gilmore had expressed "fulsome" support for Ms Shortall at recent meetings of the Labour party executive council and general council.
Neither Ms Shortall or Dr Reilly were present in the Dail chamber.
Last night Labour was plunged into a crisis after Ms Shortall resigned her job amidst much acrimony.
Party backbenchers blamed Health Minister James Reilly for her decision but the resignation in an email to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore followed weeks of Ms Shortall teetering on the brink of quitting.
The Government remained on solid footing as no Labour minister came out in support of their dejected former colleague -- who also left the parliamentary party. However, it causes a major headache for Mr Gilmore, who was in New York. It is understood he asked her to reconsider.
He will have to allay the fears of his party's ordinary TDs and senators who were largely supportive of Ms Shortall.
Speaking to the Irish Independent at a constituency event in Balbriggan last night, Dr Reilly said he had just heard of Ms Shortall's resignation.
"I haven't had time to consider this, I just heard on the way out, I haven't seen her statement and I don't think it would be appropriate to make any comment at this point in time," he said.
Asked about her reasons for leaving, he said: "You'd have to ask her that."
Her decision came just hours after a letter emerged flatly contradicting her claims of being kept in the dark by Dr Reilly -- and a week after backed him in a Dail confidence motion.
She said she didn't know why he added more locations -- including two in his constituency -- to a controversial list of proposed new health centres.
Correspondence revealed overnight, however, that this was not the case.
The resignation does cause a headache for Mr Gilmore as it makes Ms Shortall the fourth TD to leave the party since the Government was formed.
In a statement, she said she had a "lack of support" for reforming the health service but it is understood her dispute with Dr Reilly over primary care centres was the final straw in a poisonous relationship.
Labour's Meath East TD Dominic Hannigan and Cork South Central's Ciaran Lynch were last night being tipped to take her vacated ministerial post.
Although tensions bubbled over throughout yesterday, Dr Reilly was caught unawares by the late announcement, and only learned about it through the media. The resignation came as Mr Gilmore was in New York for the UN general assembly, which could be seen as a dig at her party leader.
Ms Shortall also only informed Mr Gilmore of her decision by email -- which even Labour whip Emmet Stagg conceded was unusual.
But Mr Stagg rejected claims she had been left isolated by her Labour colleagues in recent weeks, although many Labour figures -- including Education Minister Ruairi Quinn -- backed up Dr Reilly in the care centre controversy.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was disappointed and regretted Ms Shortall's decision.
"I understand the challenges that face any public representative who has to make a choice like this," Mr Kenny said.
"I want to thank Roisin for all her work as a Minister of State with particular reference to the area of alcohol and the problems caused by the abuse of alcohol. In fact her work was due to come to fruition at the social policy cabinet sub-committee next week."
Those close to Dr Reilly were preparing for her to resign, with one source saying she was in "walk or push territory" yesterday. But Labour sources pinned the blame on Dr Reilly, saying he is "extremely difficult to work with".