Wednesday 17 January 2018

Quinn: We agree Reilly 'is not up to the job'

Cabinet shares fears but Labour can't be seen to 'look for a head'


Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, in a behind-closed-doors meeting, has said fears held by Labour backbenchers that Health Minister James Reilly is "not up to the job" are "shared by your cabinet colleagues", the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Pleading with his colleagues that his comments "must not leak out of this room", Mr Quinn, who was addressing last Wednesday's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting, called on his colleagues "to be careful", saying the party "can't be seen to be looking for a head".

Mr Quinn's scathing comments reveal the deep distrust and anger within the Cabinet over Dr Reilly's chaotic handling of the heavily indebted health service since taking office, despite repeated expressions of confidence in him from Labour ministers in recent weeks.

The Sunday Independent has obtained a definitive account of the high-octane and heated meeting last Wednesday.

The gathering of TDs, senators, and some party officials, was dominated by backbench anger over proposed cuts in next Wednesday's Budget and over the party's handling of the abortion legislation crisis.

Such meetings are held under strict confidentiality but it has emerged that ministers came under sustained fire to defend Labour principles in the Budget, particularly in the areas of health and social protection.

But it was during a discussion on health that Dr Reilly's position came under intense criticism.

Party chairman Colm Keaveney railed against Dr Reilly's "privatisation agenda" of health, while Dublin North Central TD Aodhan O Riordain said he was "the elephant in the room" and called on him to be sacked.

"We are going to have to do something about Reilly and soon. Clearly he is not up to the job of being minister, and in my view he should go. He simply can't do his job, makes a hash of everything he touches," Mr O Riordain said.

Ged Nash TD, who chaired the meeting, immediately sought to distance himself from Mr O Riordain's statement, but pleaded with his colleagues that "we don't want this leaked from this room".

But then, according to several sources, Mr Quinn responded to Mr O Riordain's comments saying, "your sentiments are shared by your cabinet colleagues".

Mr Quinn, however, urged significant caution saying that it is up to Fine Gael to oust Dr Reilly, and that Labour "can't be seen to be looking for a head". Mr Quinn urged his colleagues to "close ranks" and like Nash requested that his comments remain within the room.

"This cannot leak out of this room. We are on the long march, we are only in office for 19 months," Mr Quinn reportedly said.

It has also emerged that Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore had earlier warned that Labour must not play the likely decision to legislate and regulate for the X Case as "a victory for us at the expense of Fine Gael".

"Our partners in government do not have the same unanimity as we do. We must use the time between now and the Dail vote to engage with Fine Gael and be helpful, not provocative. We can't be seen to play this as a win for us at their expense," Mr Gilmore said.

Following his comments, Mr O Riordain agreed with his leader, saying that if "we push too hard to get more legislation Fine Gael might want a deal from us in another area. Can we please manage the Budget properly first"?

According to reports, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton was severely criticised by Mr Keaveney for "standing over" the property tax being deducted at source from pensioners and social welfare recipients.

Ms Burton responded that those on State pensions and welfare will have the option of deferring the payment of the tax until their deaths, by way of accruals.

"This is the most difficult Budget to date, and it has been a most difficult process for me." In a direct swipe at Ministers Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan, she said: "Ministers like me are making decisions in a vacuum. Only two ministers and civil servants have the full picture," she added.

At the meeting, she blamed the Department of Finance for releasing a Freedom of Information request which suggested the property tax could be deducted at source. "Usually, FOIs at the Department of Finance are scrutinised at the highest level, yet this one was issued and it was a mistake," she reportedly said.

Mr Keaveney, however, was not impressed by her comments, demanding she remember her title as the "Minister for Social Protection. That is your job to protect", he argued strongly.

Sunday Independent

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