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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Reilly held crisis talks with Taoiseach over HSE deficit

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

HEALTH Minister James Reilly was last week forced to call a special meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin as cabinet tensions mount over the bulging health deficit.

The HSE deficit was one of the main issues at last week's wider cabinet meeting, and ministers say Dr Reilly is under pressure from "Noolin" -- Mr Noonan and Mr Howlin.

The HSE's deficit hit €280m to the end of May, and could reach €500m by the end of the year.

Relations between Dr Reilly and Mr Howlin have become strained, with Fine Gael sources angry at what they see as leaks from the Department of Public Expenditure designed to damage their deputy leader.

"The relationship between them would not be good," said one Fine Gael cabinet minister. "And James is not a person you would fall out with easily.

"If he has any way of throwing his weight around, he will," the minister added of Mr Howlin.

The Department of Public Expenditure's refusal to allow Dr Reilly to breach a salary cap for adviser Sean Faughnan was also a source of friction. Dr Reilly sought €112,672 for Mr Faughnan, but Mr Howlin only sanctioned a salary of €80,000.

Other cabinet ministers have also warned privately that the deficit could wipe out the larger than expected tax-take for the first half of the year -- up €507m on predictions.

Budget

The deficit has been caused by increased demand, drug savings targets not being achieved, and almost €145m generated from private health insurers not yet being delivered.

It also raises the prospect of greater reductions in health services.

Mr Howlin yesterday insisted his relationship with Dr Reilly was good, and said they shared the same goal in bringing down the deficit.

Dr Reilly is understood to have asked that all officials step out of the room for Wednesday's meeting so they could discuss how to tackle the crisis.

It was not a meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on health, which comprises Mr Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Mr Howlin and Dr Reilly, and their officials, which will meet later this week.

Mr Kenny's official spokesman declined to comment on last Wednesday's meeting at all.

"I'm not going to discuss it, it's not something I'm getting into," he said.

"But we do have budget targets to meet, and they will be met in due course."

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is also coming under pressure, with another FG source saying: "It is time social welfare stepped up to the plate.

"She needs to trim her sails financially in a real manner."

However, the pressure on Ms Burton was dismissed by Labour sources.

"No, it's mostly Reilly, that's where the real focus is at the moment," one said.

Irish Independent

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