Tuesday 16 July 2019

Gloves off as key Coveney supporter accuses Varadkar of spouting 'fake news'

Former Health Minister James Reilly criticises Varadkar's comments on medical cards

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the end of day three of the Fine Gael leadership hustings
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the end of day three of the Fine Gael leadership hustings

Niall O'Connor

FINE Gael leadership frontrunner Leo Varadkar has been accused by one of his own party colleagues of spouting “fake news” in relation to his achievements in the Department of Health.

The charge, made by former Health Minister and senator James Reilly, has ramped up tensions in the party ahead of tonight’s final hustings debate.

Senator Reilly, who is supporting Simon Coveney for the leadership, accused Mr Varadkar of using the hustings to claim false credit for the decision by the previous government to reverse its controversial policy on medical cards.

The decision in 2014 to withdraw thousands of medical cards for savings purposes caused public uproar.

It also proved deeply damaging for Dr Reilly, who in July of that year secured government approval to reverse that decision.

At the first of the Fine Gael hustings on Thursday, Mr Varadkar spoke of how he had fixed "that mess".

He recalled the 2014 local elections when party members were "falling over water meters to knock on doors to say why the government has taken medical cards".

"That will never happen if I am leader of Fine Gael," he said, adding that as health minister he doubled the number of discretionary medical cards.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Dr Reilly hit out at the remarks and accused Mr Varadkar of “fake news”.

He added: "I was surprised to hear on Thursday in the Red Cow hotel Leo Varadkar claiming that he sorted that out. There is no room for fake news in a possible leader of Fine Gael."

Responding to the comments today, Mr Varadkar rejected the charge.

"I have great respect for James as a politician and an individual, but his recollection is incomplete. The facts don't lie,” the Dublin West TD said.

The review of eligibility for discretionary medical cards which saw thousands of people lose their entitlement was initiated in the first half of 2014 while James was serving as Minister for Health. These reviews were suspended due to the public outcry. After the reshuffle, Minister Kathleen Lynch and I oversaw significant changes to the discretionary medical card system in November 2014.  As a consequence, the number of discretionary medical cards rose from 50,000 at the time of my appointment to more 100,000 by 2016.”

The spat between the pair comes just days after Dr Reilly suggested that Mr Varadkar is not a team player.

In a speech a Coveney rally in Cavan, Dr Reilly said:

“Nobody understands agriculture better at cabinet than Simon Coveney, and he also understands what it means to rear a young family.”

Online Editors

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