FOR ALL the reforming zeal he brought to his job as Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly seems to spend most of his time these days beset by controversy and struggling desperately to defend himself from a growing army of critics.
It is a sorry state of affairs that is holding up much needed reform of the health services, it threatens the stability of the Government coalition and is distracting from more important issues - not least the forthcoming budget with its €3.5 billion in cuts and tax hikes. Worst of all, though, is that it brings back into the frame the kind of stroke politics this Government promised to banish.
We have now endured three weeks of tortuous manoeuvring and feeble explanations about how two sites in Minister Reilly's constituency came to be prioritised for the location of primary health care centres. This is only the latest of a series of controversies in which Minister Reilly has become embroiled. Earlier in the year his personal finances were under the spotlight after he was listed as a debt defaulter in Stubbs's Gazette. Then there is the ongoing issue of the HSE's overspending of hundreds of millions.
It's hard to imagine how Dr. Reilly could possibly focus on the vitally important job of reforming our vastly expensive and inefficient health service. The answer it would seem is that he can't. The Health Services bloated bureaucracy continues to be overpaid, frontline services are being cut in a desperate and unfair effort to cut costs, patient care is suffering, the promised reforms have not been delivered and it looks like they never will.
In any normal workplace, failure to do the job quickly leads to a person being pointed towards the door. Leinster House isn't a normal workplace, however. Instead of firing Dr. Reilly, as he promised to do with under-performing Ministers, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is at pains to express his confidence in the Health Minister. Even Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has every confidence in Dr. Reilly, despite the misgivings within his party and calls from Labour MEPs Nessa Childers and Phil Prendergast for Dr. Reilly to "consider his position".
With the Government parties convulsed over Dr. Reilly's latest torment there is no time left to discuss the looming budget that, in less than two months time, will list out €2.25 billion in spending cuts and €1.25 billion in tax increases to be imposed on the Irish public. We reluctantly accept that this €3.5 billion in savings has to be made to secure the countries economic future, but we expect it to be done in a fair and just manner. Instead of openly debating how this can be achieved, however, the Government is instead taken up with digging Dr. Reilly out of a hole of his own making. Worst of all, we are again talking of "stroke politics", despite the promise of political reform that swept the coalition into power and decimated the Fianna Fáil party.
This whole sorry mess all points back to Dr. Reilly, a man who promised so much but who has delivered so little. That he is well intentioned is beyond doubt, but there is little doubt also that he has become a liability. The simple answer is that he must go and soon.