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Ailish O’Hora: James Reilly sounding more like Fr Dougal with promises of free health care

FOR a man who is in what must be a very stressful job, Minister James Reilly is generally a cheerful and positive chap. But where does the positivity end and the seemingly impossible start?

The Minister seems to have gotten the two situations confused this morning on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

He insisted that free GP care for all Irish citizens will still come into effect although he admitted he was being slightly ‘ambitious.’

And he also said the Government is more immediately planning to introduce free health care for younger children at a cost of €40m but with no detail of how the plan would work.

Lack of detail aside, cost is key in all of this ambitious talk – we simply can’t afford it.

The Department of Health costs over €12bn a year to run (spending) and is in the top three costly alongside education and social welfare.

And with cash-strapped consumers with private healthcare insurance cancelling it in their droves the question of how could we ever afford such a luxury is raised.

Recent figures show about 64,000 people gave up their private health insurance cover in 2012 and the trend is continuing.

While Mr Reilly’s aspirations are well and good, if history is any kind of teacher they will remain just that – aspirational.

If, and it’s looking increasingly likely, a supplementary budget is necessary in the Department of Health – it will be third one in a row.

And if that’s not enough, our paymasters the Troika is all over it like a rash, if you’ll excuse the expression.

It’s been singled out by the EU/IMF/ECB on more than one occasion.

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And even if figures released today showed the economy crawled out of recession in the second quarter of the year with low levels of growth, stripping out banking debt, it’s still creaking under the costly weight departments like health and social welfare.

I’m no party pooper by nature but that scene where Father Ted tries to explain the difference between dreams and reality to Father Dougal springs to mind.

Sometimes facing up to reality is the best medicine.

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