Taoiseach caught out over broken A&E vow
Recording forces Kenny to backtrack on denial
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny was forced into an embarrassing climbdown last night after a recording emerged of his promise to "protect and defend" the accident and emergency department at Roscommon Hospital.
He had previously denied making any personal commitment to save the A&E department at the hospital, which is closing today.
But Mr Kenny had to backtrack after a recording of his pre-election speech in Roscommon town clearly showed him promising to retain services at the hospital.
He stopped short of making the full apology demanded by the opposition but said he regretted any confusion that arose from his previous comments.
"It was never my intention to mislead anyone on this matter," he said.
Mr Kenny defended the breaking of his election promise by citing the advice from independent health regulator HIQA that the A&E departments in Roscommon and other smaller hospitals were not safe.
"The Government cannot ignore this expert advice and, consequently this element of Fine Gael's commitment is no longer tenable," he said.
The A&E department in Roscommon is closing today, six years after it was upgraded at the cost of €8m. It will be replaced with a minor injuries unit staffed by junior doctors, while patients with serious illnesses will be ferried to larger hospitals such as Galway University Hospital. The overnight service from 8pm to 8am will be staffed temporarily by two junior doctors, with a surgical team on call, for the next month.
But the Irish Independent has learned that there are no immediate plans to give extra training to GPs who are supposed to take charge of the overnight service after that.
This is despite claims by Health Minister James Reilly that the GPs would be upskilled to help them cope with the patients in urgent and emergency situations who would call them while on duty.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin called yesterday for Mr Kenny to apologise to the people of Roscommon and to the Dail after the recording of his remarks by the 'Sunday Business Post' was released.
"This is a serious instance, not just because he was caught falsely denying his own claims, but because he has done so repeatedly and misled the Dail on this matter as recently as this week," he said.
Last week, Mr Kenny failed to mention his promise to retain services at Roscommon Hospital when asked about it by Mr Martin on two successive days in the Dail. At one point, Mr Kenny said that Mr Martin's intervention was "pathetic". And over the weekend, he also denied making any specific promise when interviewed by RTE.
Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain criticised Mr Kenny's "false commitment" and claimed the axing of Roscommon A&E was motivated primarily by budgetary considerations rather than patient safety.
Party TD Denis Naughten lost the Fine Gael party whip for voting against the closure and is expected to be stripped of the €9,500-per year post of chairman of the Oireachtas health committee.
A party TD said: "The person who takes Denis's committee chair will be seen as a pariah in Fine Gael. We'd be better off giving it to Labour."