Monday 24 October 2016

Editorial: James Reilly must do the decent thing and resign

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins

Having, yet again, said sorry for the medical card debacle, Dr James Reilly should now do the decent thing and resign. Dr Reilly has already told us that the decision to review 'discretionary' medical cards in a futile attempt to cut his department's runaway budget was a disaster. But ultimately it is he who carries political responsibility for the fiasco that has ensued. The issue has not only damaged the Government in general but the Taoiseach in particular, in that he had promised a more 'hands-on' approach in Health, in effect promising to keep an eye on Dr Reilly.

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So it is a little late to say sorry now in the hope of treading water until the Cabinet reshuffle, where Dr Reilly must believe another seat will be found for him and he can rest up after the trench warfare of the last three years.

Not only was this review of medical cards inhumane in some instances, but medical experts have estimated that the savings from it were so small that it was hardly worth it given the gigantic size of the Department of Health's budget.

Although he has had one too many political misadventures there is no doubt that Dr Reilly is a sincere man who went into politics and the Department of Health with the best of intentions, knowing, as he must, that it had defeated a long list of his predecessors and he was up against massive budgetary cutbacks and a frightening array of vested interests.

However, this debacle has left him so damaged, both politically and in the court of public opinion, that it would be an honourable course, even belatedly, for him to step down immediately and leave the Taoiseach a free hand to revitalise what most observers and commentators now accept is a tired, damaged and out-of-touch Government. If nothing else he should do it in the interests of his Fine Gael party, who will fight for survival in every constituency because of the legacy of Dr Reilly's tenure in Health.

While nobody should take pleasure in anybody losing their job it isn't as if Dr Reilly was unaware of the dangers he faced in Cabinet – after all he called on his predecessor Mary Harney to go on many occasions and as Opposition spokesman he showed little mercy. There are no shortage of ambitious politicians anxious to follow in his footsteps and the quicker Dr Reilly gives them a chance the better.

Keep an eye on your hard-earned pension

Get out and look for your lost pensions – that surely is the message following an estimate by the Irish Association of Pension Funds that there is an estimated €500m out there in unclaimed pensions. How this situation has arisen is unclear, but it probably arises from workers leaving jobs but keeping pensions trustees informed of changes in address. As happens, their employer subsequently goes into liquidation, but with a solvent pension fund. So the money is there in what are called 'orphan funds' but the former employees cannot find it. Another difficulty in locating such funds is that the fund managers themselves may have been taken over and are now part of a different financial institution, but have no contact with former employees.

Some experts believe there is a need for a 'national pension tracing services', but the Pensions Ombudsman Paul Kenny says workers should take responsibility for their own pensions. The simplest way for a worker to ensure they get their benefits is to keep the pension fund trustees informed of their address and to keep correspondence.

The Pensions Ombudsman has said that his office is increasingly engaged trying to trace lost pensions, but while in "quite a few cases" they have managed to trace lost pensions, in many others they have discovered that employees were never enrolled in pensions schemes in the first place.

Irish Independent

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