Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Turf war' on tobacco and alcohol policies goes on

Minister for Children Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Minister for Children Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has sought to end the debate with Children's Minister Dr James Reilly over who is charge of public health policy, saying the section will remain in his department.

Yet the turf war over where the civil servants working on policies around combating tobacco and alcohol abuse will be based is still going on.

Dr Reilly's officials claim the movement of staff to the Department of Children is still an option being examined.

Following the Cabinet reshuffle, Dr Reilly was supposed to take some of the public health elements with him to the Department of Children.

Mr Varadkar said there will be "no silly turf war" over who is responsible for public health. He confirmed the public health section will remain in his Department - and will not be taken by Dr Reilly. He said there were certain elements his predecessor would take the lead on, such as anti-tobacco policy.

Dr Reilly will also be involved in alcohol and obesity policies, particularly where they affect children.

But the legislative responsibilities are expected to remain in the Department of Health with Mr Varadkar.

Writing in yesterday's Irish Independent, Mr Varadkar also said he planned to bring forward a Public Health Bill, which would dealing with alcohol and other matters, sometime next year.

But Dr Reilly's spokesman said moving some officials from the Department of Health to the Department of Children was an option being examined.

"A process has started involving the two ministers. That process will look at various devices," the spokesman said.

"I would imagine that is the option that is being looked at," the spokesman added.

However, it seems Dr Reilly will only have a minor role in working with the Department of Health on certain policies.

When Dr Reilly was moved from the Department of Health to the Department of Children, a range of areas of public health policy were supposed to move with him.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is believed to have been in favour of the move as it put a sweetener on Dr Reilly's demotion from the Department of Health.

Dr Reilly spoke last month about officials meeting to discuss "the most appropriate parts to bring to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs".

The former Health Minister was heavily involved in campaigns around childhood obesity and reducing smoking, including the introduction of plain cigarette packaging.

At the Oireachtas Health and Children Committee last month, Dr Reilly responded to suggestions the move would downgrade his Department.

"On the contrary, I would perceive such a move as strengthening the children portfolio," he said.

Dr Reilly said the Department of Children had established itself as "a phenomenal job to do".

"It reaches into every other department and many elements of public health specifically affect children. It is known that every euro one spends on children is where one will get the best return, whether it be in health or other aspects of their care such as education," he told TDs.

Irish Independent

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