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James Reilly comes out fighting as Alex White replaces Roisin Shortall


HEALTH Minister James Reilly is standing over his controversial decision to change the rules on picking locations for medical care centres, which led to junior minister Roisin Shortall's resignation.

He is doing so as Labour TDs warn they want an assurance he will co-operate fully with Ms Shortall's replacement, Alex White.

The minister revealed that the two towns in his constituency he added to a list of centres were classified "high priority" by the previous Fianna Fail government.

He also defended his selection of 35 locations for developing primary care centres -- expanded from Ms Shortall's list of 20.

Expressing his "gratitude to Minister Shortall" (pictured) for her work, he said, however, if he was to use her criteria of deprivation only, "it would have a very, very strange effect".

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore moved quickly to nominate Mr White as her replacement.

He spoke from New York to Mr White, who was in Brussels attending a meeting of parliamentary finance committee chairpersons.

His appointment will be formally ratified at the Cabinet's meeting next week. A Labour source said the reason for filing the vacancy within 24 hours was to show the importance of the position of Minister of State for Primary Care.

The party is anxious to pursue the reforms that Ms Shortall had set in train, which included more primary care centres, free GP care for people with long-term illnesses and the hiring of 300 extra primary care staff.

But several Labour backbenchers who spoke to the Irish Independent said they wanted an assurance that Dr Reilly would co-operate fully with his new junior minister.

The Labour TDs do not want a repeat of the unanswered phone calls, angry letters and public spats that characterised the stormy relationship between Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall.

Labour Dublin South West TD Eamon Maloney said resignations such as Ms Shortall's should not be happening at a time when the priority was to get people back to work.

"It's an unwanted distraction. We need people working together and that applies whether you are a minister or a junior minister," he said.

In a statement last night, Dr Reilly said he was looking forward to working with new Junior Minister Alex White and Junior Minister for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch to reform the health service.

And despite their public rows, he paid tribute to Ms Shortall for her hard work and her clear commitment to the betterment of the health services.

He said some of the 15 were classified in 2007, under the Fianna Fail government, as "high priority" for building centres, including Balbriggan and Swords in his Dublin North constituency.

But Dr Reilly said when the selection criteria changed "they got swept from high priority to low priority".

"I stand over the manner in which this was done; I stand over the criteria which I used," he said.

Dr Reilly said he changed the criteria for selection, from being based solely on the level of poverty in an area, to include:

- Existing health facilities.

- Accessibility.

- Patient-to-GP population ratios.

- Pressure on health services.

- Funding options.

Mr White is a barrister who produced Gay Byrne's RTE Radio show for four years.

Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulated Mr White on his appointment.

"I look forward to him making a significant contribution to the reform and development of our health service," he said.

Irish Independent