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Under-fire James Reilly defends move to add sites to primary care list

UNDER-FIRE Health Minister James Reilly has defended his decision to add two sites in his constituency to a priority list for new primary care centres.

Dr Reilly said there was nothing mysterious about his move, which was done without the knowledge of his junior minister Roisin Shortall.

Ms Shortall, Minister of State for Primary Care, revealed she had no idea why Swords and Balbriggan in north Dublin made it on to the list after it had been finalised by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

"You know, I engaged in the process with the HSE and the department to identify the centres and location that we thought should have priority," she said.

When asked why the sites were added Ms Shortall replied: "That's not a question for me, that's a question for Minister Reilly. I don't know why."

Opposition parties have raised concerns over a rift between Fine Gael's Dr Reilly and Labour's Ms Shortall - who three times refused say if she had confidence in the Health Minister.

The minister dismissed this, adding that her vote in his favour during a motion of no confidence debate in the Dail this week was good enough for him.

"Actions speak louder than words," he said.

Elsewhere, Children's Minister, fellow Fine Gael TD Frances Fitzgerald, immediately jumped to Dr Reilly's defence over the controversial primary care centre plans.

"If you want to look at each of the places individually, each one on the list is in need of a primary care centre," said Ms Fitzgerald.

"There's no doubt about that."

Minister Reilly defended his decision to add Swords, Balbriggan and another 13 sites to the priority list of 20 as it would put pressure on GPs to fight for the centres.

He said Balbriggan has the second highest density of unemployment in Dublin, while Swords - with a population of 48,000 - has no facility or direct transport links to its nearest hospital.

He said as a GP with 25 years experience, and with advice from health and ministerial colleagues, he made his decision with good reason.

"If I had to make the decision again, I would make the very same decision." he said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he found the revelation "deeply unsettling".

"At face value, it appears that political interference has taken place in a selection process that is both of enormous clinical importance and significant commercial value," said Mr Kelleher.

Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said the relationship between Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall had clearly broken down, resulting in a deep dysfunction at the helm of the health services.

A motion of no confidence in Dr Reilly was this week defeated by 99 Dail votes to 49.

However, in a speech during the debate, Ms Shortall made no reference to her senior colleague and said she faced a huge challenge in managing her part of the health service on a reduced budget.

In contrast, Dr Reilly's second junior minister Kathleen Lynch voiced her confidence in him, as did Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and a number of Government backbenchers.

Earlier this month, Dr Reilly was forced into an embarrassing u-turn over plans to cut personal assistant care hours to the disabled.