Reilly will take his anti-smoking crusade to the Children portfolio
JAMES Reilly is expected to be allowed to bring his anti-smoking crusade to his new Department of Children and Youth Affairs as part of a public health remit which is to be added to its responsibilities for the first time.
It will sit with his main duties, which cover the care and protection of many vulnerable children as well as oversight of creches and adoption.
His efforts to reduce the incidence of avoidable diseases caused by bad lifestyle habits, such as smoking or use of sunbeds, counted among his hits during his tenure as Health Minister, which was marked by a lot of misses.
While the addition of public health duties to his brief could be seen as a means of softening the blow of losing the Health portfolio, it has a lot of potential to influence children at an early age to shun some of the vices which follow them into adulthood.
Dr Reilly is fond of saying there are no quick gains in public health and changing people's habits is a slow bicycle race, which can take a generation to bear fruit.
However, if he takes what he has learned as Minister for Health and forges on with his plans to introduce plain packaging on tobacco products, Dr Reilly will definitely make his mark.
More than 300,000 children are also either overweight or obese and only recently health officials warned that they may be the first generation to die before their parents.
The ticking timebomb – which also has Irish teens among the worst for binge drinking – means that prevention has to be brought from the back of the queue.
The momentum is already in place with the launch last year of a Health Ireland policy, which aims to include all government departments in the ongoing battle to get the nation to change its ways.
Dr Reilly can reinvent himself if he makes headway in getting more schools to provide more exercise for pupils and end the practice of some of them banning running in the yard because of insurance concerns.
It is understood that just some elements of public health will be transferred from the Department of Health and it will continue to have the prime responsibility for its implementation, which would make sense from a practical point of view.