Fionnan Sheahan

Monday 14 July 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Minister out of his depth -- and dragging others down with him

Fionnan Sheahan

Published 04/10/2012|05:00

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IF James Reilly somehow survives in the Department of Health, he is expected to confront a series of formidable challenges:

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• Managing health spending, which is threatening to run €300m over budget.

• Preparing the cuts for Budget 2013.

• Handling the sensitive issue of the Government's response to a European Court ruling on abortion.

In his own private life, Dr Reilly still has to resolve his personal finances which have resulted in him being listed in 'Stubbs Gazette' as a debt defaulter.

And this is the minister who can't even adequately explain when a site in his constituency was selected as a location for a primary-care centre.

A fortnight into the controversy, the least that could be expected of a cabinet minister is to be on top of the brief on an issue that has already resulted in the resignation of junior minister Roisin Shortall.

He still can't answer basic questions on the selection criteria used for 35 primary care centres -- let alone go into how a site owned by a political supporter was lined up in the heart of his Dublin North constituency in Balbriggan.

What's more, he seems determined to drag cabinet colleagues into the mud with him. Yesterday, Ruairi Quinn misled the Dail -- albeit inadvertently.

"The site in question was selected by Ms Mary Harney when she was the Minister for Health and Children," he said.

Wrong, as Dr Reilly sensationally admitted yesterday afternoon. In fact, the site was selected and the lease signed during Dr Reilly's term in office.

Yesterday morning, the Government was happy to attribute the decision directly to the Health Minister of the day.

By that rationale, surely the current minister has to take personal ownership of the decision on his watch. Instead, Dr Reilly bluffs on about not being involved in the process at all.

At this point, it's clear -- yet again -- that Dr Reilly is simply out of his depth in ministerial office.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is standing by his man and the Labour Party appears neutered.

Labour is uncomfortable but it is not willing to risk the stability of the Government on this front. "Labour ministers are Labour's problem. Fine Gael ministers are Fine Gael's problem," a senior party source said last night.

Aside from examining Dr Reilly's position, Mr Kenny needs to ensure that the Health Minister answers the outstanding questions clearly and succinctly as this affair is causing damage to the Government's credibility.

Better yet, get a retired senior civil servant to review the files on the compilation of the primary-care centres list and the selection of the Balbriggan site.

As the Taoiseach knows from his service in John Bruton's government, the public deserve to have openness, transparency and accountability from their Government.

Irish Independent

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