Sunday 9 December 2018

Fionnan Sheahan: Lack of a memo speaks volumes about trust levels

IT SPEAKS volumes about the level of trust around the cabinet table that ministers don't circulate documents to colleagues for fear of leaking.

Dr James Reilly received the report of the expert group examining the various locations for the new children's hospital about three months back.

The Taoiseach and the Tanaiste got a briefing on the Dolphin Report just after its arrival.

But the Health Minister didn't actually circulate it to the rest of his cabinet colleagues until Monday morning -- 24 hours before the decision was taken.

By that time, the contents of the report had been widely reported and disseminated in the media.

The members of the Cabinet charged with making the decision on the actual location were the last to know.

Notably, the Health Minister wasn't really the one having the finger pointed in his direction. Dr Reilly didn't flag his recommendation to ministers in advance, either.

Normally, ministers circulate a memo to cabinet colleagues on the weekend ahead of the meeting where a decision will be made, to give ministers time to think about it.

However, there are exceptions to this rule, in the case of major issues, to avoid the information being leaked in advance.

But the lack of debate over the decision on the single-biggest infrastructure project in this Government's lifetime is a valid point.

The Cabinet was presented with a fait accompli, without any real discussion on the alternatives, either from a medical or planning perspective.

Leo Varadkar and Joan Burton will be dismissed as putting a hand on the parish pump for bringing up the alternative of James Connolly Hospital because it is based in their constituency.

But surely the option of a non-city-centre location deserved to be fully thrashed out for a decision on a facility that will be around for decades to come.

The Government has taken the chance that it can get over the short-term hurdle of planning on the St James's site.

Whether this will be seen as the best decision won't be assessed in 2016, but in 2066.

Irish Independent

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