Wednesday 22 October 2014

Editorial: Health fiasco highlights need for Reilly to go

Published 05/06/2014 | 02:30

Health Minister James Reilly may be set for a shuffle. Photo: Mark Condren
Health Minister James Reilly may be set for a shuffle. Photo: Mark Condren

Confirmation from Finance Minister Michael Noonan yesterday that some if not most of those people who had their discretionary medical cards withdrawn are to get them back is welcome. It was an appalling own goal by a Government that has completely lost its way since the start of the year. The ending of the controversial HSE review, announced last week, was the first step taken to correct the damage done.

News that those who have lost their cards are to get them back will be a huge relief to those affected. Many of them are among the most sick, the most in need, and the most vulnerable people in the State.

Health Minister James Reilly and his junior minister Alex White now have two weeks to draft proposals for how this self-created mess is to be cleared up. It is not yet clear whether this clean-up can be done without the need for new legislation.

But while this is all welcome news for the patients involved, it only adds to the quagmire that is the Department of Health and its budget, which was already €80m in the red at the end of March.

Word from Government that the €113m in savings the review of medical cards was to deliver will instead be found from the existing health budget does not inspire confidence.

Yet again, the crisis in health is to the fore of the political debate, and 12 years into the existence of the HSE it appears little has been learned.

Politically, the fiasco looks to have sealed the fate of Dr Reilly as minister. But Mr White is not quite out of the woods either. His tilt at the Labour leadership could yet be torpedoed on foot of his role in this debacle.

Public calls in this newspaper and elsewhere from Fine Gael backbenchers for Dr Reilly to be sacked illustrate how low his stock currently is.

That was further emphasised by Taoiseach Enda Kenny's failure to express confidence in Dr Reilly when asked. This failure is significant given that Dr Reilly is Mr Kenny's deputy leader and it is the clearest signal yet that he is for the door.

Noonan shows what true leadership means

At the age of 71, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has indicated that he intends to contest the next general election for his Limerick constituency. This announcement comes just a day after he revealed that he has been receiving ongoing cancer treatment since February and underwent an operation last week. Happily he has been told by his medical team that the risk of recurrence is low.

It is a remarkable renaissance for the former leader of Fine Gael. As Finance Minister he has presided over three austerity Budgets in a row, yet little or no blame for the pain inflicted on various sectors of society has attached to him.

The public want leaders and he has shown such leadership. Although Mr Noonan has taken many unpalatable decisions, most people believe he has always acted in the best interests of the Irish nation and appears to have done so with as much compassion as he could muster in the dire circumstances in which he found himself.

With a cabinet reshuffle looming and the departure of his Secretary General, John Moran, and his junior minister, Brian Hayes, it is important that Mr Noonan remains as Finance Minister for the lifetime of this government, continuing with his programme to restore the public finances. His experience and knowledge are unrivalled and it is a mark of the man that, despite his illness, it was business as usual in recent months.

In his life and work Mr Noonan has shown that that there should be no place for 'ageism' in Irish society and despite political differences the vast majority of people would wish him well.

Irish Independent

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