Improving healthcare Irish-style, redux! October 4, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Stephen Collins has an odd column in the Irish Times on the James Reilly issue today. Odd in so far as it is remarkably generous to the Minister of Health in respect of the issue of the Balbriggan primary care centre.
The latest twist in the complex saga of the Balbriggan primary care centre does not appear particularly damaging in itself. If the Minister is right, then long-time Fine Gael member Séamus Murphy will not benefit from the project as the selected site is actually under the control of the National Asset Management Agency.
More importantly, Reilly is adamant that he had nothing to do with the decision by which the specific site in Balbriggan was chosen by the Health Service Executive for the development of a primary care unit.
Well that’s alright then. Oh, wait, no it’s not. The issue has been clouded by claim and counter claim that it is now quite difficult to ascertain what is the truth of the matter.
Only today Frances Fitzgerald was but the latest person sent out to defend him.
“she was confident once all details emerge people will accept that he has done nothing wrong.
“There is no personal gain for him. There is no impropriety in relation to the lease, the land, the particular site we’re discussing today. That will emerge more and more as the details of the decision making around that emerge,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
But even she had to…
…[concede] that the details “may not seem clear now” but said this would change.
Well if she can’t put them in their proper context, being a Minister and from the same party as Reilly how are the rest of us to make any sense of this? But she’s not the first to do her duty as regards Reilly. Yesterday it was Education Minister Ruirí Quinn who went out to do the decent thing for Reilly in the Dáil only to discover that the situation was not quite as it had been presented.
As if the whole primary care centre saga was not complicated enough, further twists in the story, as it relates to the Balbriggan site, emerged during the Minister’s appearance in the Dáil to answer questions yesterday afternoon.
It seems that the Minister wrongly concluded that the Balbriggan site was selected by the HSE in 2010, during Mary Harney’s term as minister for health. Ruairí Quinn defended his Cabinet colleague on this basis later in the Dáil. That was not the case, however, and the site was selected while Reilly was in office, even though he had nothing to do with its selection.
Which is also odd (and read here for how staunch his defense was of his embattled colleague ), and odder still is the conclusion Collins draws from this:
All in all, it appears that the latest controversy is not what it seems and Opposition claims of cronyism on Reilly’s part in relation to the deal don’t seem to have a foundation. However, the fact that the controversy developed legs so quickly on a flimsy basis is a clear indication of how much trouble the Fine Gael deputy leader is in.
On the very information Collins offers us – and particularly in regard to the ever shifting narrative as to the selection of the site – it would appear that, at the very least, there were significant questions to be asked and simple statements that ‘he had nothing to do with its selection’ and ‘the latest controversy is not what it seems’ are insufficient.
And yet odder again what to make of this from Collins slightly later in the same piece?
If the Minister is being subjected to unfair claims of cronyism, he remains vulnerable on the wider issue of why two towns in his constituency, Balbriggan and Swords, were among those added to the approved list of primary care centres.
But Collins has already said there’s ‘the controversy is not what it seems’ and ‘he had nothing to do with its selection’. So how can Reilly be vulnerable? All very puzzling. All very confusing. All very odd.
And even more confusing when one reads Miriam Lord’s piece on the matter in the very same edition:
In the morning, his defence – put forward by Quinn in the Dáil and himself on radio – seemed to be that Harney had “selected” and chose the Balbriggan site. By the afternoon, the explanation had changed. It wasn’t Harney who earmarked the site. In fact, it might have been him, but he can’t be sure.
Though, if I were Reilly I think I’d be less than pleased with an undertone evident in the piece – and perhaps a case of Collins wanting to have his cake and eat it should the Minister be given an helping hand to the door of the Cabinet room at some time in the not so distant future. It’s not hard to distinguish the message that his days may – for all the patronage of his leader and his own status as Fine Gael Deputy Leader – be numbered. Otherwise how to read the following:
AS EACH day passes, James Reilly is learning the truth of the maxim that politics is a cruel trade. He clearly intends to battle on but the unrelenting pressure will be difficult to withstand as time goes on, particularly as it appears to be taking a toll on the Government he serves.
‘Difficult to withstand’? Hardly a ringing endorsement. I wouldn’t quite start packing my bags if I were Reilly, but might just bring them along to the office just in case.
Here’s another statement that might make Reilly pause for thought:
In every government, one minister gets targeted by the opposition and becomes the lightning rod for public anger. In this Coalition, Reilly has become the target both by virtue of his personality and the office he holds.
Perhaps so, and yet the good Doctor might reflect upon one Phil Hogan who after a very bad year was given the – probably – more comfortable option of keeping a low profile. But then however close to Kenny the Minister for Health is Hogan is closer still.
By the way, one wonders what Quinn makes of this. Or does he even care? But then Collins analysis of Labour is even odder.
Some surprise has been expressed in the media about the way in which senior Labour figures abandoned junior minister Róisín Shortall to her fate, but that flows from a misreading of her status within the party.
And not only, but also:
Long before she resigned, some of her party colleagues could not disguise their exasperation with Shortall’s refusal to compromise with her senior Minister.
The nature of any such ‘compromise’ has already been teased out a bit on this site in the last week or so. Suffice it to say that if one agreed approach to universal health insurance and other matters is sidelined by the approach of the larger party that hardly fits the definition of ‘compromise’.
And what of this?
One way or another, her resignation has amounted to a significant headache for party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Since the formation of the Coalition there has been a small disgruntled element in the party which has found a focus for unhappiness with Government policy in muted criticism of his leadership.
The party’s Ireland East MEP, Nessa Childers, has given voice to this frustration on a number of occasions and, together with fellow MEP Phil Prendergast, called for Reilly’s resignation yesterday. While Childers is not influential, the Reilly/Shortall controversy may give encouragement to some of the other disaffected members of the party to emerge into open revolt.
But interestingly else in the Irish Times today these supposedly “not influential” figures are part and parcel of the ratcheting up of pressure on Reilly (to quote “However, the controversy has increased tensions within the Coalition, with two Labour MEPs calling on the minister to resign”. If they’ve no influence how why mention them in the same breath as increased tensions?).
And Collins implicitly acknowledges this when he continues that this [the controversy may give encouragement…] is the ‘really dangerous thing’ for Gilmore, what are delicately described as ‘mainstream TDs’.
Ah. Well now. That would never do.