Sunday 17 December 2017

Phone row farce as Reilly insists he rang Gilmore over ex-HSE boss

Health Minister James Reilly.
Health Minister James Reilly.

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE row over Health Minister James Reilly's communication skills descended into farce last night, as it emerged there was no record of a supposed mobile phone call he insisted he had made to tell the Tanaiste that the HSE boss had quit.

Dr Reilly is under fire for failing to tell cabinet colleagues about the departure of HSE chief executive Cathal Magee this week.

As Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore revealed he was perturbed at learning the news on the radio, Dr Reilly yesterday insisted he had tried to ring him on his mobile phone.

But it is understood that there was no missed call from Dr Reilly , let alone a voice message, on Mr Gilmore's phone.

The confusion over the call was the latest twist in the coalition row over the sudden departure of Mr Magee -- where Labour was completely left out of the loop.

Mr Gilmore made a phone call to Dr Reilly yesterday morning lasting several minutes, in which he warned him that such an event should not happen again. A Labour source said it was a professional call with Dr Reilly giving an assurance that there would not be a repeat.

Dr Reilly had been told last Friday by the head of his department about Mr Magee's plan to step down, just two years into his five-year term. But he did not reveal this news at last Tuesday's cabinet meeting, with his spokesman saying he wanted to respect the "confidential" nature of the information. However, he did tell Taoiseach Enda Kenny after the meeting and then he attempted that evening to contact Mr Gilmore on his mobile.

"Unfortunately, he didn't get through," his spokesman said.

Mr Gilmore confirmed yesterday that he had first heard the news on the radio.

"I think it is regrettable that that information leaked out in that way," he said.

It also emerged yesterday that Mr Magee had agreed to a request from the Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny before the news was publicly announced.

Soured

The HSE said this was to be done out of courtesy to Mr Kenny. But the news of Mr Magee's resignation had leaked to the media in advance. The meeting between Mr Kenny and Mr Magee is still due to go ahead in Government Buildings today.

The row over the departure of Mr Magee had soured relations between Labour and Dr Reilly. Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said there was a "problem" with communications in Dr Reilly's department that needed to be addressed.

"Whether it lies with James Reilly or some of his officials, I don't know that," he said.

But there was a concerted effort yesterday by both Government parties to defuse the situation, with Mr Kenny emphasising the strength of the coalition bonds.

"There's a very strong professional relationship between both parties in Government, between the Tanaiste and myself, between the Tanaiste and all the ministers, and between the Taoiseach and all the ministers. There's no need for over-reaction," he said.

Mr Kenny also rejected suggestions that Mr Gilmore had been "having words" with Dr Reilly during their phone call.

"Generally when people speak to each other, they use words. Your interpretation of that is that the words might have been louder than normal conversation might be. I don't think that's the case," he said.

Labour Louth TD Ged Nash said that Dr Reilly had got the message "loud and clear" -- and now needed to tackle the €280m health budget deficit.

"There are ways he can do it without impacting on frontline services," he said.

Labour Junior Minister for Older People Kathleen Lynch admitted there were "tensions" in Dr Reilly's department -- but said there was a united focus on improving the health service.

"Of course, when you have very strong opinions -- and there's none of us shrinking violets -- in one department, you are going to have tensions. And there is going to be a different view of how things should be done," she said.

It came after Labour Junior Minister for Primary Care Roisin Shortall had strongly criticised the fact that she had only learnt of Mr Magee's departure from the media.

Irish Independent

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