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Wednesday 17 January 2018

Kenny and Gilmore in the loop on health centre plan -- Reilly

Blame spreads as Health Minister reveals he 'consulted' Taoiseach and Tanaiste over additions to primary care list

Nobody should have believed Enda Kenny's promise to deliver report cards on ministers. But it's surely not too much to expect straight answers to straight questions concerning his cabinet
James Reilly

JEROME REILLY, PHILIP RYAN, DANIEL McCONNELL, JOHN DRENNAN and MAEVE SHEEHAN

The Minister for Health, James Reilly, has revealed that he "consulted" the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste in a critical two-week period in July during which he increased from 20 to 35 the number of primary health care centre locations around the country.

In an admission which will spread the blame for a controversy that has dogged the Government, Dr Reilly told the Sunday Independent yesterday that the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, Brendan Howlin was also kept in the loop when proposed centres at Balbriggan, Swords, as well as Roscommon and Kilkenny were added to the priority list.

The Sunday Independent can today also reveal that Dr Reilly held a meeting with Phil Hogan in relation to primary care centres, before he added a centre in the Environment Minister's constituency to a list of where they should be located. The meeting, which is recorded in Dr Reilly's ministerial diary, took place on February 29 and is listed as "re primary care".

The revelation that the two most senior Labour ministers, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Mr Howlin, were consulted by Dr Reilly before the final decision was announced, may go to explain why Mr Gilmore refused to support former Minister of State Roisin Shortall, who cited "stroke politics" when she resigned.

Last week, Ms Shortall said of Mr Gilmore: "He backed James Reilly over me."

The disclosure today will add to unease within Labour over the manner in which Ms Shortall was treated by the party's leadership and may also add to tensions which exist within the Government over the manner in which Dr Reilly has handled the affair.

The Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn, is known to be furious that information supplied to him last week by Dr Reilly's office, in relation to when the site in Balbriggan was chosen, had caused him to unintentionally mislead the Dail.

A senior Labour source yesterday said: "Reilly is on his last legs."

However, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday also told the Sunday Independent that he had forwarded representations he had received in relation to the location of primary health care centres to the Department of Health and/or the HSE.

His spokesman said: "As an elected politician, the Taoiseach receives representations on numerous matters which are forwarded by his office to the relevant government department or body."

This is the first time it has emerged that Mr Kenny's office had been in communication with the health authorities, which decided where the centres should be located.

Government sources have confirmed that a representation from the Taoiseach's office would "carry more weight" than from any other minister, TD or senator.

Before the general election, Mr Kenny had promised that Fine Gael in government would maintain emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital, a promise broken when the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition came to office.

As a result, government sources last week claimed that Mr Kenny was anxious, on a personal level, that Roscommon would be chosen as a location of primary health care centres.

A government spokesman yesterday said:"No representations were made in relation to Roscommon."

When asked to clarify if this meant Mr Kenny had not received representations in relation to Roscommon, or that he had not made representations in relation to Roscommon, the spokesman said: "My response clearly states that the Taoiseach receives representations on 'numerous issues' and they are dealt with in the manner outlined.

"It is not issue-specific. It is not plausible in my view to assert otherwise. Separately, and out of courtesy, I've also said that Roscommon was not the subject of a representation. I expect the response I provided to be quoted in full. I have nothing further to add."

As it turned out, two towns in Roscommon, Boyle and Ballaghaderreen, were added to the final list of 35.

Yesterday FF health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, told the Sunday Independent that he had been informed: "Enda Kenny played a key role in ensuring the two sites in Roscommon had been chosen."

Mr Kelleher added: "The selection of those towns was completely politicised. Boyle and Ballaghaderreen were put on that list for one reason only, to soften the blow for Fine Gael of the closure of the A&E in Roscommon."

Mr Kelleher also dismissed assurances by the Department of Health and HSE, cited by Mr Gilmore last week, that there had been no ministerial interference in the selection of primary care locations. "Mr Gilmore may have asked the wrong question," he said.

Fianna Fail Deputy Sean Fleming said the committee would ask the secretary- general of the Department of Health "if Enda Kenny or emissaries of Enda Kenny contacted the Department on the issue of primary care centre locations".

In early July, Ms Shortall submitted a list of 20 locations to Dr Reilly's office on criteria that the centres be based in locations of greater social deprivation.

On July 12, Dr Reilly extended that list to 30 locations, including Boyle, and on July 17 he extended the list to 35, which included Balbriggan and Swords in his Dublin North constituency, Boyle and Ballaghaderreen in Roscommon and a location in Kilkenny, Mr Hogan's constituency.

Dr Reilly has now confirmed that he had "consulted" with Mr Kenny, Mr Gilmore and Mr Howlin when these decisions were made.

In relation to the meeting he held with Mr Hogan, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Minister Reilly has already made clear that he consulted with government colleagues on the issue of primary care centres.

"The Government is committed to delivering as many primary care centres as possible by way of direct investment, lease or public-private partnership. The process involves the identification of sites including the possibility of ones in State ownership."

Two government politicians from Roscommon, Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan and Labour Senator John Kelly, have confirmed that they had made representations to have both towns considered.

Mr Feighan yesterday confirmed that he had "lobbied James Reilly directly and staff in the HSE West" on behalf of Boyle. He said his lobbying was "primarily verbal" but said that he may also have sent a letter to Dr Reilly, although he "wasn't sure" whether he had.

Yesterday, Mr Fleming said: "James Reilly does not strike me as being someone who would be swayed by a backbench Fine Gael TD. You can write off any back-benchers or even ministers of State. This was done by the big boys."

Mr Kelly, meanwhile, has said he lobbied Mr Gilmore about the requirement for a centre in Ballaghaderreen.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Gilmore said: "Since the Tanaiste was first elected to Dail Eireann, he has received representations on a variety of issues, which his office has [directed to the] relevant... department or agency."

In Galway yesterday, Dr Reilly was asked if he had received any representations from government ministers in relation to his decision to add Roscommon to the list.

He said: "I did not receive any representations, but I can confirm that I certainly consulted both Tanaiste and Taoiseach and other ministers, including Minister Howlin, in relation to my rationale for increasing the number from 20 to 35."

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Hogan said the February meeting with Dr Reilly was "a broad discussion" on primary care centres and the community care model in the south east.

In the Dail last week, Dr Reilly caused bewilderment when he sought to explain the rationale behind the decision to extend the list of locations from 20 to 30 and then to 35.

He said: "I have laid out the criteria for the deputy three or four times. The criteria are quite extensive and because all of them act in different ways it is a bit like a multiplier... It is a logistical, logarithmic progression. There is nothing simple about it."

Also in the Dail last week, Mr Gilmore said: "I was no more involved in the criteria for how primary care centres were selected in the Department of Health than I was involved in the criteria that were used in the Department of Education and Skills for the selection of schools, or the criteria that were used in the Department of Transport for the selection of roads."

Yesterday, Mr Kenny said: "The selection of specific locations was based on criteria which have been outlined by the Minister for Health."

Sunday Independent

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