COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Pat Rabbitte was among those to show support for the embattled James Reilly during a debate on a motion of no confidence in the Health Minister this evening.
The Fianna Fáil motion was brought before the Dáil by the party’s health spokesperson Billy Kelleher who criticised Reilly for what he said was an unsustainable and “dishonest” health budget proposed last year.
The heated debate was notable for the considerable criticism levelled at Fianna Fáil by Reilly himself, Fine Gael TDs, and Labour minister Rabbitte for the opposition party’s handling of the health service while in government between 1997 and 2011.
In tabling the motion, Kelleher said that “dysfunction and chaos” in the Department of Health was feeding into the Health Service Executive which is facing a budget over run this year.
“Because of your incompetence and inability to deliver a budget and manage a budget you had people outside government buildings protesting because their personal assistance was being withdrawn,” Kelleher said referring to the disability protests in Dublin a fortnight ago.
During the debate the issue of Reilly’s relationship with the junior ministers in his department arose with Kelleher claiming that the minister does not have “confidence among your cabinet colleagues”.
Show of support
At one stage during Reilly’s own statement, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch sat beside him in a show of support that was later added to by the appearance of Lynch’s fellow Labour minister Pat Rabbitte.
The motion was seconded by Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley who shared speaking time with independent Mattie McGrath who in heated exchanges made reference to Reilly’s “stately mansion in Moneygall and his tax free breaks” for maintaining the home.
“He hasn’t time to deal to deal with the portfolio of health because he is too busy fighting the war on his property portfolios,” he said referring to Reilly’s recent and much-publicised appearance on a debt defaulters’ list over his part-ownership of a nursing home in Tipperary.
“He hasn’t time to look after the people,” McGrath shouted across the chamber.
Shouts of “you’re a disgrace” emanated from the government benches directed at McGrath, a former Fianna Fáil TD.
During his own statement, Reilly was heavily critical of Fianna Fáil’s time in government and of the party’s leader and former health minister Micheál Martin.
The Minister made reference to the falling number of patients on hospital trolleys and the work of his Special Delivery Unit. He said there were 13,000 less people sitting on hospital trolleys this year as a result of his work in government.
Falls in waiting list numbers, steps taken to abolish the HSE, development of primary care centres, development of chronic disease management programmes, a new cystic fibrosis unit, and a restructuring of the hospital sector were also cited by the Minister among his achievements.
Real people have benefited from these achievements and this government’s reform programme. These are real people, this could be your daughter, my brother, his sister, her mother.
“There are still however too many people waiting and we want to go further and we will,” Reilly told TDs adding later that the health service would be “the best in the world” as a result of the people working in it and the “historic” changes he was implementing.
In his short contribution, Rabbitte defended Reilly saying he was dealing with “a huge challenge that he has been left by the outgoing Fianna Fáil administration”.
He said: “For more than ten years the people opposite failed in the best of times to deliver a quality service. In times of plenty they have the unique distinction of making the situation worse.
If I were deputy Micheál Martin and I had done to this country what he did to this country and to the health service in particular I’d crawl under a tomb in The Burren and start communicating with nature for the rest of the time that I would be around.
In his contribution, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin told the Dáil: “There must be a major change in both economic strategy and health policy or we face complete melt-down in public health services in this State.
The first step is the resignation or removal of this Minister followed by the reversal of the cuts and the adoption of a health policy based on fairness and equity and access for all.
There were brief contributions from independent TDs Maureen O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath before the debate was adjourned shortly after 9pm until tomorrow when a vote will be called and almost certainly defeated by the government majority.