Reilly insists he will not resign as Labour queries pay savings
EMBATTLED Health Minister James Reilly has rejected calls for his resignation, while Labour ministers are now casting doubt on how much can be saved in health under the new public sector pay deal.
Dr Reilly said Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's call for him to resign or be sacked was "a bit rich", while Junior Health Minister Alex White backed his under-fire senior minister.
But Mr White also expressed doubt about the level of public sector pay savings included in the health budget by Labour colleague Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
Dr Reilly said he had "no intention" of resigning: "I think it's a bit rich for Micheal Martin, the architect of the HSE ... when we had more money than at any other time in the State and made a complete mess of the health service," he said.
"The man who presided for 716 weeks, week in, week out, sitting at Cabinet with Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen (who) bankrupt the country, it's really a bit tongue-in-cheek from my point of view coming from him."
He also said he was "absolutely in control" of his budgets but warned there was "no fat" left to be cut.
"We are down to the bone and I would like everybody to understand as we go towards validating this, the implications it may have for the service plan."
Senior FG sources claim Mr Howlin and his department are pressuring Dr Reilly into unrealistic cuts to save their reputations and the Haddington Road Agreement.
Up to €268m of the total €666m health savings comes from pay cuts negotiated by Mr Howlin. But many in FG are casting serious doubt on this figure, which they claim is "phoney". Mr White admitted it "looks like a very large figure".
"I would rather not comment on one specific figure in there because I was not party to coming up with the exact figures," he said. "They look big to me, I'll be honest with you."
Mr White also said Dr Reilly was the right man for the job and asked people to wait and see how the cuts would affect the health service day to day, which would be outlined in the HSE service plan.
"Yes, I do have confidence in his (Dr Reilly's) ability and I do also have confidence in the HSE, who will be coming back to us in the next three weeks with their plan," Mr White said.
"The health services will struggle with the allocations we have been given, there is no doubt about that."
And Dr Reilly also admitted that the group of senior civil servants double-checking budget figures in the Department of Health could decide that the total amount of cuts next year would be as high as €1bn.
Three of the country's most senior civil servants – from the Departments of Taoiseach, Health and Public Expenditure – will meet in the coming days to verify the €666m in health cuts, a figure Dr Reilly claims was imposed on him.
It has been speculated the final figure for health cuts could be closer to €1bn, and Dr Reilly said the "verification process" to check his figures would decide if the total cuts would amount to €666m or €1bn.
"That's what I want the verification process to address," he said, while also dismissing calls for his resignation.