Kenny hits back as Reilly shifts blame for card fiasco
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rebuffed claims by Health Minister Dr James Reilly that the Government lacked "political will" before the recent election reverses to deal with the medical card crisis.
Speaking in the US, Mr Kenny said all government decisions were taken collectively and involved every member of government – meaning Dr Reilly was also involved in all medical card decisions.
The Taoiseach also said he had confidence in his Health Minister, in the same way he had confidence in all ministers, but refused to say whether Dr Reilly would be in the Cabinet after the forthcoming reshuffle.
The Taoiseach's comments came as Labour TDs and senators were last night enraged by efforts from the embattled Health Minister to deflect blame for the medical card debacle to the junior coalition partner.
As the internal row continued, two Labour ministers were obliged to publicly express confidence in Dr Reilly. But privately some of their backbench colleagues said they were "disgusted" by the minister's implicit effort to shift blame.
And Labour's Social Protection Minister Joan Burton – far from supporting her cabinet colleague – utterly rejected Dr Reilly's claims that he did not get support from other ministers because they lacked the "political will" to resolve the crux before now.
Separately, the HSE announced the expert panel which will examine how medical needs must now be taken into account in assessments for medical card eligibility. The experts will be chaired by Professor Frank Keane, a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, and will be made up of 23 senior medical professionals as well as a patient representative.
During his visit to California, the Taoiseach said the HSE announcement showed government determination to deal with the medical card problems.
But he would not guarantee Dr Reilly will continue as Health Minister after the reshuffle to be done in consultation with the new Labour leader.
"It is the responsibility of the Taoiseach in terms of appointments to cabinet and so on. But clearly there is a process in train with our colleagues in government, the Labour Party," Mr Kenny said.
Labour leadership candidate Ms Burton did not mince words as she hit back at Dr Reilly's assertions to his Fine Gael party colleagues at a parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday.
"The Taoiseach was hands-on in relation to the Department of Health. The department was in intensive discussion with the economic management council. The political will was there on my part to transfer, willingly, significant amounts of money to his departments," Ms Burton said on RTE's 'Today With Sean O'Rourke'.
"I don't really understand because Dr Reilly was at the Cabinet table and he was a party to those discussions and obviously as the line minister he would have to be responsible for his decision – but the Cabinet collectively is also responsible," she said.
In the Dail, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin faced repeated questions on the issue. Challenged by the Opposition, he was obliged to say he had confidence in Dr Reilly – in the same way as he had confidence in all ministers.
Speaking in Co Meath, the junior health minister, Alex White, said he had full confidence in his departmental boss. But he also stressed that all the Government had a role in these poor decisions.