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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Reilly calls TDs in last-ditch bid to save his job before reshuffle

Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

Published 08/07/2014 | 02:30

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It's been claimed people will struggle to afford payment required for the new healthcare system

James Reilly has launched a desperate, last-ditch attempt to be kept on in the Department of Health ahead of tomorrow's Cabinet reshuffle.

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The embattled minister was last night ridiculed by Fine Gael backbenchers, many of whom he has phoned in recent days in a bid to drum up support for his bid not to be dropped.

The Dublin North TD admitted at one of two press conferences he held yesterday that he has been phoning backbenchers ahead of his expected demotion by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The Irish Independent understands that Dr Reilly caused Mr Kenny to "nearly have a stroke" with a plan for another round of medical card review letters in recent weeks.

After coming under strong criticism for the medical review fiasco, Dr Reilly then came back to Cabinet a fortnight ago with a plan to send out another 25,000 to 30,000 letters to over-70s medical card holders. The proposals stunned ministers and are understood to have deeply alarmed Mr Kenny.

"Kenny went apesh*t and said the letters were not to go out," a minister said.

"Reilly said there were medical card review letters to go out. The Taoiseach nearly had a stroke. It wouldn't have helped his case," another Coalition source said.

Dr Reilly is expected to be dropped as Health Minister, with Richard Bruton the favourite to replace him as the Taoiseach views him as a "safe pair of hands".

His status as Fine Gael deputy leader is believed to be his trump card, meaning he has to be given another ministerial role.

Ministers also say Dr Reilly annoys cabinet colleagues with his inability to stay focused on a particular issue.

Vitriol

The Health Minister has also been on the receiving end of "vitriol" from Fine Gael in his own constituency over his handling of the health portfolio.

In his dying days as Health Minister, Dr Reilly has launched a series of initiatives, from plain cigarette packaging legislation to health insurance reforms.

He again pleaded to remain in the department.

Dr Reilly also admitted yesterday he was ringing around party backbenchers in an effort to drum up support to stay on as the Health Minister.

A number of Fine Gael backbenchers last night said they had received phone calls from Dr Reilly in recent days

"We know he's trying to drum up support but, to be fair, he has a tough job to do," said one Reilly supporter.

Other TDs were not as sympathetic when contacted by the Irish Independent.

"I know he's been ringing people in the party and that's because he's doing whatever he can to save his job. It smacks of desperation," one TD said.

For many members of the parliamentary party, the medical card review fiasco was regarded as the final straw for Dr Reilly.

"If Reilly keeps a Cabinet seat, no matter how junior, it will cause absolute outrage among the Fine Gael rank and file membership.

"It's probably the same for Hogan but the anger against him isn't as intense or as widespread," a party source said.

"He has an ability to turn gold into s**t and there's his attitude too."

The minister was also criticised by Fine Gael members in his own constituency of Dublin North.

At a Dublin North constituency meeting last Thursday, members heaped vitriol on both Reilly and Hogan.

"The tone of (Reilly's) speech to the meeting suggested that he thought he would be staying on in Cabinet and this seemed to provoke things even further. People were very cross," a source said.

Irish Independent

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