News Gene Kerrigan

Saturday 20 September 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Kick her to the side of the road. Drive on

Latest round of pitiful performances raises more questions for an exasperated public, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 30/09/2012 | 05:00

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Bloody Roisin Shortall. Your heart would go out to Eamon Gilmore. There he was in New York, getting ready to give his big speech to the United Nations.

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The world was agog -- the Middle East in particular. What would Eamon have to say about the slaughter in Syria? Would he demand targeted sanctions and a comprehensive arms embargo?

To be honest, I'd forgotten Eamon was Minister for Foreign Affairs. It had completely slipped my mind that he gets to fly thither and yon, setting the world to rights. Mostly, when I think of Eamon -- which I do, religiously, every single day -- I think of him as standing a few feet to the left of Enda Kenny, nodding.

I'm happy to report that yes, on Friday, the Middle East got to breath a sigh of relief, as Eamon eventually revealed that he is indeed in favour of targeted sanctions and a comprehensive arms embargo. But, before that, just as his big moment approached, Eamon was peppered with questions about this petty row back home.

His moment in the New York limelight. The big stage, front and centre, and reporters wanted to know what he thought about the resignation of Roisin whats-her-name, that pest who wouldn't play the game.

I mean, what was the fuss about? Shortall was history.

For a government with a big majority, the resignation of the junior minister for health was no more than a nuisance. A dead political body, a mere speed bump under the wheels of the coalition limo.

Kick her to the side of the road. Drive on.

All the same, it was a dicey week. Apart from James Reilly "reconfiguring" a list, and Shortall jumping ship, we had yet more entertainment from

Phil Hogan, the Traveller's Friend -- caught blackguarding an innocent citizen. Again.

The Government's biggest setback last week, by far, was the decision of the German, Dutch and Finnish governments to reinterpret the EU decision on bank debt. Under pressure from Spain, in June, EU leaders decided that bank and state debt should be separated. Which means the Spanish state won't have to take on the crushing bank debt.

"Me too, please! Me too, please! Me too!" said Enda. Surely this should apply to Ireland, where the State was already crushed by bank debt? So, the EU leaders threw in a paragraph about examining Ireland's problem.

Enda basked in the glory. This was a "seismic shift", he said. Eamon Gilmore, nodding, said it was a "major game-changer".

If this was true, the statement would have said, unambiguously: "This will apply retrospectively to Irish bank debt." Instead, grateful, deferential, Kenny and Gilmore took the soft option and left lots of wiggle room. And now the German, Dutch and Finnish governments are wiggling like mad.

If this goes wrong, it's a disaster for the Government. Its whole strategy is based on following instructions from "our external friends", then begging for a break on debt. It's a disaster for us, too -- because even a bad deal on bank debt is better than no deal.

Happily, the humdrum concerns of Dr James Reilly, Minister for Moving Facilities into His Own Constituency, provided a welcome distraction from such momentous matters.

It looks like stroke politics, said Leo Varadkar, and by God it does. See it from Roisin Shortall's point of view. She's working hard to put in place a system of primary care centres. She's had a list of 20 locations drawn up, carefully allocating scarce resources where they will do most good. That list was drawn from a bigger list, of hundreds of possible locations.

She passes the list of 20 up the line to her boss, James Reilly. When it comes back he's added 15 more.

Em, well, she thinks -- that makes sense, it gives us some options, so that GPs in any particular place can't hold us to ransom. And . . . Uh, oh . . .

The 15 new locations should, of course, have come from the next 15 on the bigger list -- as the locations had been carefully graded. Instead, two of the locations were from Reilly's constituency.

And they had been way down the list.

Shortall perhaps drew the conclusion that Varadkar drew -- this could be a Reilly stroke. In which case, have other ministers influenced the composition of the longer list?

So, in the middle of a vote of confidence in James Reilly, Shortall stands up in the Dail and says the locations chosen must be "based on health need and no other consideration". It's clear what's happening. Everyone in the Dail knows what's happening.

There's a serious concern about why a crucial list, allocating scarce resources to the citizens, came to be changed. Reilly's actions needed to be scrutinised. This needed to be a concern of the Taoiseach. And the Tanaiste.

The original motion of no confidence in James Reilly was, of course, an opportunistic move by Fianna Fail. Now, there was a matter of substance relating to the Minister for Health, and it needed to be dealt with.

It may well be that what "everyone knows" is wrong. Perhaps Reilly was right, perhaps Shortall was wrong.

On the night, Shortall voted confidence in Reilly, to keep her job, and waited for the political support. It should have come from Gilmore, from senior Labour figures -- hell, it should have come from Enda Kenny.

This was no more or less than a need to assess whether or not someone had pulled a stroke, whether health resources were being used as chips in a political game.

This has to do with standards in government. And that goes to the top.

Political support doesn't consist of someone saying "I support Ms Shortall", it would in this instance have consisted of a demand for a transparent examination of Reilly's actions. Was there a stroke, or was an unfair aspersion being cast?

No one seemed to want to know the answer to that question. No such support came. So, Shortall resigned.

When Gilmore was asked about Reilly's explanation for changing the list, which was undermined by an Irish Times story, he said he wasn't into "trawling over" the matter.

Gilmore said he was concerned about the "mother with a sick child" who needed medical help. Labour TDs muttered about how Shortall should have done this or that -- ah, you know, she should have, you know . . .

So -- a political stroke, or merely a different way of drawing up a list?

I know what I think. And here's what makes my mind up: When people in high office insist on not asking questions I have to wonder if it's because they already know the answers.

The question now is not just why James Reilly changed the criteria for the location of primary care centres. It's who else had a hand in drawing up that list of an extra 15?

In a week like that, all we needed was another minister to hit the headlines, for blackguarding an innocent member of the public.

Ah, there you are, Phil.

Sunday Independent

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