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Saturday 24 March 2018

Brendan Howlin: Our dept has to 'scrutinise' Reilly plans

Howlin denies he is 'at war' with Health Minister James Reilly - but says universal health proposals must be 'scrutinised'

Brendan Howlin.
Brendan Howlin.

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has denied that he is at war with James Reilly over the provision of universal health insurance.

Mr Howlin was responding to reports that his own officials have warned that the Health Minister's plan could pose a risk to the financial stability of the State.

The Department of Public Expenditure is understood to strongly criticised the universal health insurance proposals in a letter sent earlier this week.

The letter is reported to have warned that Dr Reilly's plan had the "real risk of creating a potentially open-ended financial liability for the exchequer".

It further claimed that it could add an extra €5bn to health care costs.

The criticism prompted a terse response from the the minister's officials, who accused Minister Howlin of trying to "frustrate" the process of the rolling out of universal health insurance.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Enfield, Co Meath, Minister Howlin refused to deny that Minister Reilly's plan poses a risk to the State's financial stability.

But he said the issue has not yet been discussed at a "political level" and that his department has the "responsibility" to scrutinise the costings of every proposal.

"There will be lots of dialogue at an official level before it gets to a political level, for a programme and a proposal that is as important to the government as this one is, and it is important, it is one of  the bedrock issues that both parties are agreed upon," he said.

"As I said, it hasn't got to a political level of discussion yet. My Department officials engage, they prepare grounding documents for me, before we get to that stage. So as I said, my surprise, is that this early official interaction on a very important, critical policy strategy that both parties in government are fully committed to would wind up in the national papers or the national media at this early stage."

Minister Howlin also rejected that there is increasing tensions between him and Minister Reilly.

"Not at all. On a personal level we get on extremely well. It annoys me to see it being personalised by some. In fact that is not true. But on an official level I have to always interact with every line minister. My job is to ensure that the fiscal recovery is that we've  had, the great progress we've made, is sustained."

Irish Independent

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