Tuesday 12 December 2017

Pressure heaped on James Reilly but no opportunity for Dail questions

Ed Carty

QUESTIONS remain over Health Minister Dr James Reilly's stake in a private nursing home while in government, Sinn Fein has claimed.

The under fire minister set out complex legal battles, lease disputes and repeated failures to find a buyer which led to him being named in Stubbs Gazette over a €1.9 million debt after failing to comply with a court order.

Dr Reilly rejected claims of a conflict of interest over his 9pc shareholding in the Green Hills, Co Tipperary nursing home investment dating back to 2000.

But Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said the explanation has not dispelled concerns over a health minister having a for-profit interest in private nursing care.

"The minister has left questions unanswered," he said.

"The minister claimed that it is not the case that there is a conflict of interest because he is not the operator of the nursing home.

"Of course having a stake that may give rise to a conflict of interest does not require the minister to be the operator, merely to benefit or potentially benefit from the concern in question."

Dr Reilly made a late night Dail statement amid accusations that his government role and business interests clash and insisted that he was in politics for one thing, patient welfare.

"I do not have a conflict of interest. I have a single interest and that is the interest of older people and patients in our health service," he said.

"I entered politics late in life. I did so in pursuit of no business interests whatsoever.

"I did so because I passionately believe that we can provide better services to citizens. I passionately believe that we must put patients at the heart of our health service."

Dr Reilly was entitled to be bought out of the investment in June 2011 but lawyers repeatedly failed to secure a buyer.

He blamed a series of legal wranglings over a lease and the planned buyout.

Sinn Fein had suggested earlier this week that Dr Reilly deliberately closed public hospital beds to drive business for private care and highlighted the closure of 296 beds this year.

Dr Reilly rejected the claims out of hand.

The Fine Gael deputy leader was in Cyprus at a meeting of European counterparts when he was named in Stubbs on Tuesday. He returned yesterday evening in an effort to set the record straight.

Dr Reilly holds a 9pc share in the investment and was one of five recourse co-owners. He is in effect a minority shareholder.

There were another eight investors, regarded as non-recourse owners, who were involved in the 2000 deal to buy the land near Carrick-on-Suir, build a nursing home and lease it.

He was seeking to have the non-recourse owners, or others, buy him out when the 1.9m euro debt repayment judgment was made against him and other investors.

Dr Reilly insisted that he has never had any role for the on-the-ground operations at Green Hills.

On taking the role as health minister in government in March 2011, Dr Reilly granted power of attorney over the business interest to a lawyer following advice from the Standards in Public Office.

He said very significant efforts remain under way to resolve the ownership dispute and for him to be divested of the shareholding.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has already said he has confidence in his minister.

The embarrassing listing on the defaulters pages of Stubbs Gazette is a first for Irish politics.

Dr Reilly added: "I do very much regret that it has not proved possible to reach a settlement in advance of being named in Stubbs Gazette.

"There has been a suggestion made that I may have a conflict of interest because I have a share in a private nursing home. I'd like to state clearly for the record that nothing could be further from the truth."

Dr Reilly said he is aware that a new lease is being finalised for the operators of the nursing home.

There was no opportunity for TDs to question Dr Reilly in the Dail after the statement was made.

Dr Reilly's business interests have fallen in to the public domain in the past.

It emerged last year that he and his wife were hiring out their stately home in Co Offaly while securing a tax break for its upkeep.

The minister, originally a GP by profession, also owns a commercial complex in Lusk, north Dublin, which houses a doctors' surgery and a supermarket.

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