Sunday 17 December 2017

Halligan: Budget will pass with or without me, so I'm staying a minister

John Halligan: ‘End game’ warning. Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan: ‘End game’ warning. Photo: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn and Eilish O'Regan

John Halligan says he'll stay in government and vote for the Budget despite the row over Waterford Hospital because "it will be passed with or without me anyway".

The Independent Alliance junior minister insisted that a second catheterisation laboratory for his local hospital is "not dead in the water" but warned that if he can't get it over the line it will be the "end game for me".

He claims that the review into cardiac services at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) was subject to interference from the Department of Health.

He says this came in the form of a briefing note prepared for Dr Niall Herity, the independent medical expert who reviewed services in the hospital. The note said that the funding of a second cath lab is not viewed by the HSE as a top priority.

This section was redacted when it was initially released by the department following a freedom of information request.

Mr Halligan obtained the full text of the note on Friday and has claimed that the contents of the blacked-out section show it's "clear" that the department tried to influence the review.

Dr Herity has previously insisted that he carried out the review in an independent and objective manner.

Mr Halligan has continued to say that Fine Gael agreed that the second lab would be provided. He told his local radio station WLR FM: "I expect them to honour the agreement they made with me." However, he said he wouldn't leave the Government over the issue for now.

"The easiest thing for me to do now would be to walk from government and vote against the Budget," he said. But he added: "The Budget will be passed with or without me anyway."

He said he wants to continue "to do what I can for Waterford as a minister" and he thinks there's still a chance to deliver the lab.

"If I walk out now, it may very well be gone altogether," he said.

However, Mr Halligan warned: "If I feel at some stage I cannot get this over the line, well then it's end game for me and that's it."

An adviser for Health Minister Simon Harris declined to say if she had seen the redacted briefing document for Dr Herity or if the minister had been made aware of it before it was released. But she said there are "very stringent processes around freedom of information in all departments".

A Health Department spokeswoman said that the briefing note provided to Dr Herity "accurately reflects the department and the HSE's view" on the need for a second lab and "The paragraph referred to was redacted as being part of the estimates process."

She said that Mr Harris accepts Dr Herity's finding that a second lab is not justified but that the existing cardiac service should be enhanced.

She said while Mr Harris has said he will not meet UHW consultants to discuss Dr Herity's report, he will visit the hospital to discuss the other planned new developments with staff.

Dr Rob Landers, the clinical director of UHW, said that Harris is not visiting the hospital until mid-November and this is too much of a delay. "We need a face to face meeting to discuss the urgent issues," he said.

Irish Independent

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