Sunday 19 November 2017

Backbenchers turn on Reilly over doomsday list of cutbacks

Health Minister James Reilly's warnings of drastic
measures have backfired ahead of the Budget. Photo: FRANK McGRATH
Health Minister James Reilly's warnings of drastic measures have backfired ahead of the Budget. Photo: FRANK McGRATH

Fionnan Sheahan and Patsy McArdle

HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly's doomsday list of potential health cuts has backfired, with Fine Gael backbenchers believing public fears are unnecessarily heightened ahead of the Budget.

The minister's warning of a €50 medical card tax, a hike in prescription charges and the widespread closure of hospitals are being seen as a stroke within Government.

But Fine Gael TDs feel the stark warnings were another example of Dr Reilly bluffing. And he has also caused concerns among the public about cuts that might never happen.

"It's the politics of Bertie and people don't want it. They're tired of the kite-flying bulls**t and ministers doing the two-step," a party TD told the Irish Independent.

Dr Reilly's move was regarded as an effort to face down demands for cuts from Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin.


But he is also regarded as having gone too far by publicising a range of worst-case scenarios, beyond what will actually appear in the Budget.

A string of newly elected TDs have come out backing the Health Minister to the hilt, calling for him to be given more time to implement his reforms. But several established TDs have taken a more sceptical view of his stance.

Newly elected Fine Gael TD Sean Conlon called on Dr Reilly to take "whatever steps are necessary" to prevent the closure of Monaghan General Hospital and the scale-down of day-care services at St Mary's Hospital in Castleblayney. Mr Conlon said there is disquiet over concerns that healthcare reform, and the protection of frontline health services, which were "fundamental principles of the Fine Gael Election manifesto, are "now in danger of being sacrificed to protect the Croke Park agreement".

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said it was imperative funding for the nation's health sector should "not be reduced" for the benefit of the Croke Park deal.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted that a wide range of "unpalatable measures" remain on the Cabinet table in the drive to achieve budgetary cuts and savings of €3.8bn for 2012.

His comments came after Social Protection Minister Joan Burton hinted that profits from dividends, PRSI charges on rental income and even the targeting of tax exiles could be options. Ms Burton -- speaking in Cork -- had specifically underlined the importance of children's allowance payments and said that the wealthy need to play a greater role in a progressive tax regime.

Mr Kenny said that the Government is fully committed to meeting its financial targets -- and everything remained up for discussion.

"There is an enormous challenge here. We have fixed goal posts in the sense of the requirement to. . . take €3.8bn out of the economy next year," he said.

"The choices are unpalatable. But I can tell you that we haven't signed off finally on the details of this yet.

"I have to say that the discussions around the cabinet table have been very pragmatic and very realistic."

Ministers have attended three cabinet meetings this week to discuss the Budget.

Irish Independent

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