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Sunday 28 May 2017

TD rethinks threat to walk over HSE cuts

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

A GOVERNMENT TD has backed away from a threat to quit politics over the downgrading of a local hospital.

Former Fianna Fail Junior Minister Michael Kitt vowed to walk away from a 35-year career in politics if cutbacks designed to recoup a Health Service Executive (HSE) budget deficit of €91m impacted on services at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe.

His threat followed an announcement by Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish last week that he was prepared to withdraw his support for the Government over the proposed cutbacks.

The threats by two government TDs in Galway had cast fresh doubts over whether the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition could last a full term until 2012.

It currently has a majority of just six votes -- with a budget containing €3bn in cutbacks and taxation increases on the way in December.

But Mr Kitt last night pulled back from his threat "to get out of politics altogether" if he felt there was no progress being made on the fight against the health cutbacks.

"It's a hypothetical situation because we have a lot of meetings to hold and a lot of campaigning to do. The story should be about the health and safety of the people in the area rather than TDs withdrawing support or walking away," he said.

Closure

Concerns for Portiuncula Hospital's future were raised by the publication of the Mott MacDonald report earlier this month, which recommended a "consolidation of acute services" and the closure of a hospital in the region. However, the HSE has denied that the hospital will be closed.

Mr Kitt said he was still supporting the Government and denied that the controversy over the HSE West cutbacks was another sign of its shakiness.

"People are always saying the Government is shaky or the Government won't last, but we have lasted three years," he said.

Mr Kitt is perceived as one of the most loyal members of Fianna Fail, being the son of a former TD and brother of fellow Fianna Fail TDs Tom Kitt and Junior Minister Áine Brady.

The HSE West is still in negotiations with health unions about the cutbacks needed to plug the expected €91m deficit in its budget at the end of the year.

Fianna Fail Galway West TD Frank Fahey said he was coming under pressure from health unions about the cutbacks, but said they had to be made to address the deficit. "There doesn't have to be an impact on frontline services or permanent jobs. I've suggested to the HSE that if it is necessary for some temporary staff to be laid off, they could be given the first option of coming back," he said.

Mr Fahey said savings could be achieved by redeploying the estimated 200 former Western Health Board management and administrative staff who have no proper jobs to do at the moment.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation sent a letter this week to all TDs in the HSE West region, calling on them to demand the HSE impose no further cuts to frontline services or staff.

Irish Independent

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