Jonathan Fallon: For a man on a noble mission, Minister Reilly has singurlary failed to make many friends
JAMES Reilly will be happy to put this week behind him. Appearing in Stubbs Gazette and being dubbed ‘Dr. Debt’ is not exactly going to be the highpoint of his career. Reilly is a man of considerable means who says he entered politics for no other reason except that he felt that people deserved a better and more caring health system. Yet for a man with such a noble mission he has singularly failed to win many friends. He is often seen as abrasive and arrogant, out of touch with ordinary people, unpopular even with many within his own party.
There are many reasons for this and not all of them are justified. However, within Fine Gael, Reilly has a problem. Firstly his contribution to the party is often seen as one dimensional. Politics is very much a team sport where it is demanded that you leave your comfort zone to bat for the rest of the team. Reilly is not fond of this. He is a doctor by profession, but unlike many of those from various professions who have worked in various roles and ministries, Reilly is determined that health, and health alone, is where he works. When George Lee joined Fine Gael he was spectacularly disappointed by the lack of opportunity offered to him to work in his area of expertise. He was bluntly told that he had to serve his apprenticeship and work as part of the team. The party leadership had a very valid point in this case but one could have forgiven George Lee if he cast envious glances in the direction of James Reilly.
Now, that’s all very well, but if you take up such a role within the party and are given such latitude you are expected to be something of a genius at what you do. Sources within the Fine Gael back benches suggest that, thus far, they view Reilly as one of the more disappointing Ministers. There were high hopes, but little progress is seen that could not have been achieved by anyone else performing the task. There is nothing special here. To be fair he is just approaching a year and a half in office. However, it should be remembered that while in recent years we have become accustomed to long term governments and waiting years for decisions to be taken, in the past Ireland has had some good ministers of various political hues who expected more volatile electoral circumstances and more than made their mark in various ministries in a very short time.