Pro Life dismay as former abortion campaigner named as HSE chief
THE new head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) was at the centre of controversy last night over his support for abortion.
Tony O'Brien (49), a senior health official who is to become director general of the HSE, strongly campaigned for abortion legislation a decade ago when he was head of the Irish Family Planning Association.
The Pro Life Campaign said last night his appointment "sends out the wrong message on abortion".
However, a spokesman for Health Minister James Reilly -- who hand-picked Mr O'Brien for the job -- insisted he will have no role in the health policy and there was full confidence in his ability to run the HSE.
The minister is to get the report of an expert group in the autumn which is expected to support the introduction of limited abortion here.
The minister yesterday appointed Mr O'Brien as director general designate, a post he will assume for three years once legislation on the top-tier shake up of the HSE is passed at the end of the year.
He is to take over in an acting capacity in a matter of weeks from chief executive Cathal Magee who recently stepped down after the post was abolished under the overhaul.
Mr O'Brien is a trusted aide of the minister and his task will be to improve the financial management of the HSE which has a debt of €281m.
Mr O'Brien, who is currently head of the Special Delivery Unit in the Department of Health, is on a salary of €166,000.
The minister's spokesman said the salary for the full-time director general has not yet been set but it will not breach the €200,000 ceiling set for the public service.
The number of top management HSE director posts is being reduced to six and these are to be advertised, although candidates are confined to the health service.
Dr Reilly and his department will recover the dominance it lost with the creation of the HSE in 2005 when the new legislation is passed and having his "own man" in the top job will see him take more control over decisions relating to the day to day running of the health service.
Dr Reilly said: "Tony O'Brien has demonstrated, in a range of different areas, a capability of implementing progress. As chief operating officer of the Special Delivery Unit he has worked with stakeholders across the country to put in place measurable improvements.
"I am satisfied that he has the qualities needed to drive the essential reform required to ultimately end our two-tier health system."
He also had the skills needed to manage the tighter financial control to be put on the HSE.
"The remainder of this year will be a very difficult one for our health services given our very considerable financial problems.
"But let me be clear that those problems will be managed on the basis that services will only be affected as a last resort.
"I also wish to state that the current financial difficulties will not be allowed to derail the central policy of this Government to produce a fairer, more effective and efficient health system as we move to universal health insurance."