Reilly and Shortall at 'breaking point' in care centre war

Niall O'Connor

RELATIONS between James Reilly and Roisin Shortall were at "breaking point" this weekend with senior government figures predicting a reshuffle of ministers in the strife-torn Department of Health.

Health Minister Dr Reilly has become embroiled in yet another highly embarrassing public spat with his junior counterpart -- this time over primary care.

It has emerged that Dr Reilly ensured that two locations in his own Dublin North constituency were added to a HSE list of places chosen for primary care centres.

Dr Reilly has come under fire for the move after it became clear that HSE bosses and Ms Shortall did not believe the Swords and Balbriggan sites warranted priority status.


Dr Reilly has strongly defended the move, adding that he would "make the decision again tomorrow" if he had to.

But it is the political ramifications of the decision -- and particularly the sour relations between the Dr Reilly and junior minister Roisin Shortall -- that has fuelled speculation about a reshuffle.

Speaking on the basis of anonymity, a Cabinet member told the Herald that he believes Ms Shortall -- who has refused on numerous occasions to back Dr Reilly -- will be moved out of the department.

"She clearly does not have the confidence in Minister Reilly. For her to refuse to back him publicly is very serious. Quite clearly there's war going on in the department and I think Shortall will be moved out. Relations appear to everyone to be at breaking point."

The latest spat follows Ms Shortall's speech on the motion of confidence in James Reilly on Wednesday night -- when she failed to declare support for him or even mention him once.

Dr Reilly went on to win the vote by a margin of 99 to 50.

So far, no other Cabinet members have supported Ms Shorthall's position -- if anything she has become further isolated.

When contacted by the Herald, the other junior minister in the department, Kathleen Lynch, refused to support Ms Shortall's criticism of Dr Reilly.

"It's a very busy department and there are very difficult challenges facing the department. When it was awash with money under Fianna Fail, the problems in the health service were not fixed. Not only do I have confidence in the Minister, but also the entire Government."

When asked whether she shared her Labour colleague's concerns about the primary-care decision, Ms Lynch said: "I don't want to go there. We all have different areas of responsibility." The latest controversy at the Department of Health involves some 30 locations for primary care centres which were sent from the HSE to the Department of Health earlier this year -- after up to 200 sites nationwide were considered.

However, Dr Reilly ensured that five additional sites were added to this list, including Swords and Balbriggan.

This has been strongly criticised by the Opposition, given that the HSE itself only ranked the two sites as number 44 and 130 in terms of priority.

Dr Reilly came out in staunch defence of the move despite the major questions hanging over the decision to add the two north Dublin sites.

"I reject any idea that there was anything improper. If I had the same decision to make again tomorrow I'd make it. I have some experience in relation to primary-care GP provision," he said.

Attempts to contact Ms Shortall were unsuccessful. However she admitted yesterday that she did not "know why" Dr Reilly had changed the list. She also refused three times to express confidence in her senior counterpart.

"I engage in a process with the HSE and the department to identify the centres and the locations we thought should have priority. Then obviously there were additional locations added to that list. I don't want to comment on that."