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Burton 'saddened' to see Shortall go - but affirms confidence in Reilly

The Minister for Social Protection says every member of government “has confidence in every other minister”.

SOCIAL PROTECTION minister Joan Burton has sad she was “saddened” to hear of Róisín Shortall’s resignation from government – but affirmed her confidence in the performance of the Minister for Health, James Reilly.

Representing the government at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this morning, Burton said the intention of the government was to deliver a national network of primary care centres of which both Reilly and Shortall could be proud.

“Can I just say in relation to my colleague Róísín Shortall, that I want to say I’m very sorry and quite saddened to see her go,” Burton said, describing her former colleague as “a talented and compassionate woman” who had “spoke the truth to power”.

“I think that’s the job of every politician – and she did that – whether they’re in opposition, were one has far more leeway, or whether one is in government.”

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said there appeared to be contradictions between Enda Kenny’s account of events regarding the allocation of primary care centres – saying Reilly had “consulted with all of his colleagues” – and Leo Varadkar’s admission that he did not know the criteria being used.

“Did you have knowledge of the additional 15 centres that were being added to the list?” McGrath asked, before charging: “The wrong minister has resigned. The game up for Minister Reilly. The clock is ticking.”

Burton was unequivocal in her response, however:

Everybody in the government has confidence in every other minister. I have confidence in Minister Reilly. I have confidence in every other member of the government.

‘Other line ministers would not be involved’

When similar questions were put by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, Burton elaborated that the examination of criteria like those handled by Reilly were the responsiblity of the individual line minister.

“It is rare that other ministers would be involved in the detail,” Burton said. “The Departments that would normally be involved at the Department of Finance and [Public Expenditure and Reform]. Other line ministers would not be involved.

“What you’re suggesting is that everybody in cabinet somehow sat down and went through this list” of proposed primary care venues, the minister later added.

“Subject to finance being available, the [finance and public expenditure] ministers and the senior minister in Health would have made the final decision, which would then of course have been agreed by the entire cabinet,” he said.

Burton later told the technical group’s Thomas Pringle that the government’s achievements in primary care would remain visible in the future, “when the personality clashes are forgotten”.

This morning’s Dáil proceedings got off to a fractious start, as Burton officially informed the Dáil of Shortall’s resignation – with confusion over whether Dáil rules permitted opposition parties to make statements on her departure.

Fianna Fáil’s McGrath, unaware that statements were being permitted, continued with the usual Leaders’ Questions – only to be confused when McDonald was invited to make comments immediately after him, without Burton answering them first.

Separately, the Oireachtas committee on Health and Children unanimously passed a motion from Labour’s Robert Dowds calling on the government to bring forward Shortall’s Sale of Alcohol Bill as soon as possible. That legislation is set to impose a minimum price per unit for alcoholic drinks.

More: James Reilly on Shortall’s departure: ‘Pressure’s only for tyres’

In full: Róisín Shortall’s resignation statement

In full: Reilly’s letter to Shortall about Primary Care centres

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Gavan Reilly

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