Taoiseach under fire for tobacco meeting
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has come under fire at the cabinet table from Health Minister James Reilly for his decision to meet recently with senior figures from the tobacco industry.
It has been learnt that the health minister made "a series of angry observations about the tobacco industry lobby" after Mr Kenny raised the issue of his meeting on May 7 with a delegation representing the interests of 'big tobacco', including broadcaster Bill O'Herlihy, whose company O'Herlihy Communications advises the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers' Advisory Committee.
A long-standing personal friend of Mr Kenny, Mr O'Herlihy served as a media adviser to Fine Gael in the 1970s and more recently to former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry. He was recently appointed as chairman of the Irish Film Board.
Senior government sources said that the Taoiseach broached the subject of his secret meeting following a presentation by the health minister on his objectives for the Government's anti-smoking campaign. Having concluded his remarks during which he showed his fellow ministers examples of the plainly packaged cigarettes already being sold in Australia, which will soon be introduced here under legislation, Mr Reilly found himself listening to the Taoiseach explain his own decision to meet figures from the very industry whose activities he is now desperately working to curb.
"Enda raised the issue of the meeting, and he was quite defensive about it," a senior government source said.
Asked for the health minister's reaction, the source added: "Reilly didn't criticise the Taoiseach directly. But he made it very clear that he was upset. He said he had told that crowd to go and take a running jump when they tried to arrange a meeting with him. He made it very clear that he didn't have time for listening to anyone trying to bend his ear on tobacco. He is passionate about this one."
Another senior government source noted that while Mr Reilly was normally "muted" in his contributions at Cabinet, on the issue of anyone from the Government sitting down with the tobacco industry lobby, he was "very emphatic, clearly annoyed, and very clear that he had told them to go and take a running jump''.
It is understood that the health minister tempered his remarks, telling his cabinet colleagues that having personally checked the protocols on meetings with lobbyists, he did not have a particular issue with the meeting that had taken place between the Taoiseach and the group brought to him by Mr O'Herlihy. He said that anti-smoking groups were putting him under increasing pressure, however.
It is understood that the health minister's stock has gone up considerably among his Cabinet colleagues for what they consider to be his "brave personal crusade" against powerful tobacco industry interests.
Contacted and asked for comment on the health minister's stand at the Cabinet meeting, a spokesman for Mr Reilly said: "I would not expect the minister to provide me with details of the cabinet discussion on the issue. On the issue of the meeting by certain government figures with the tobacco industry, Minister Reilly remarked on that at the Health Committee at its last meeting with him. He indicated that he was not willing to meet the tobacco industry."