CHILDREN'S Minister James Reilly has no regrets about not downgrading Portlaoise Hospital despite a report in 2011 recommending such a move.
Four years later, and following a damning HIQA investigation and the deaths of five babies at the hospital, some services - such as complex surgeries - are to be cut.
A 2011 report by the National Acute Medicine Programme found that Portlaoise should lose its Model 3 status and become a Model 2.
At a health and children committee hearing that year, the then Health Minister Dr Reilly said Portlaoise had a "bright and essential future in the hospital network".
Despite several attempts by the Herald in recent weeks to ask Dr Reilly why the hospital was not downgraded, he refused to comment - until yesterday.
When asked, considering recent events, if he regretted not downgrading the hospital, Dr Reilly said he did not.
"Portlaoise Hospital was very different to the other nine hospitals that were mentioned by HIQA (to be downgraded)," he said. "This hospital had maternity services, the other hospitals didn't. It had paediatric services, the other hospitals didn't.
"As a consequence of having maternity services, it had to have 24/7 anaesthetics.
"So it was a case of making sure the services were safe and that the necessary resources were put in place. Now, that is a matter for the HSE when they get their budget.
"I think if you care to check you will find that there isn't a huge difference in the funding that was given to Portlaoise and other Model 3 hospitals.
"But the fact that we have had the terrible tragedies that we have cannot be explained by resources. Treating patients the way they were treated cannot be explained by resources.
"These are serious issues where there has been a terrible failure to treat people with humanity and dignity and cannot be explained by resources."
Laois-Offaly Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan also opposed the 2011 downgrading.
He said yesterday that "there is no downgrading", despite the fact that complex surgery will discontinue and patients who need it will be transferred to other hospitals.
Mr Flanagan told the Herald that "the damning HIQA report has to be taken very seriously to ensure patient safety".
"It's absolutely essential that there be a full and open process of consultation about the future development of services at the hospital because I will not stand over an unsafe regime," he said.
He added that in 2011 he fundamentally disagreed with Dr Gary Courtney of the National Acute Medicine Programme "who proposed the closure of the maternity unit".
HSE chief Tony O'Brien promised to have an independent consultant look at "accountability" at all levels of the service following the HIQA report.