Ministries of Wishes reveal weak links

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A few months ago I wrote about how ministers in this Government could be divided into three distinct categories: the High Flyers, the Passengers and the Weak Links.

At the time I identified Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter as two of the Government’s weakest links. I also noted that they were not the only ones. Their names made it into the frame at the time due to the insensitivity and arrogance they had displayed over a series of issues, including the failed Dail inquiries referendum and the handling of the household charge.

I remarked how they somehow managed even to “edge the walking disaster zone that is the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, out of the frame”. As we saw last week, while they may have managed to topple him from his top spot back then, he was not going to stay off it for long.

Not only does his naming in Stubbs Gazette return him to the prime position as the Government’s weakest link, his insistence on slipping into the Dail just before the close of business to make a brief and convoluted statement without an opportunity for others to respond or question him guarantees his grasp on that spot for some time to come.

Even if the Green Hills Nursing Home saga had not re-emerged last week, Reilly would have been on top of the list thanks to his stewardship at the Department of Health — or the lack of it.

His failure to accurately plan and properly manage the health budget for 2012 means it is facing a €500m deficit by the end of the year. This will mean cuts in frontline services and patient care at the end of the year as local hospital managers make up for the minister’s lack of leadership.

The blame rests with the minister. He was the one who brought in a health estimate based on targets that were simply not deliverable.

The income streams and expected savings from the cost of public beds being charged to insurance companies, drug pricing and reducing agency costs are not being achieved.

Minister Reilly was told this at the time, yet he insisted on introducing a budget based on predictions of significant increases in revenue. We are now over halfway through the year, and where are they?

Seven months into the year and he has failed to bring forward the legislation required to allow this additional income. The health service cannot run on his good intentions and ambitious hopes.

It is more than 14 months since he scrapped the board of the HSE and we still we have no legislative or other action from him to improve governance of the health system.

He is not the only one in this Government who thinks targets and ambitions can be made real by closing his eyes and wishing really hard. His colleague Joan Burton is equally adept at willing the ends but not the means.

The most effective way to reduce the Social Protection bill on a sustainable basis is to get people back into work, yet Burton appears to set herself the task of finding ways of increasing employment costs.

Her recent suggestion of raising PRSI may look like a tempting proposal as she faces down Brendan Howlin in the run-up to the next Budget negotiations, but it makes no sense in terms of joined-up Government thinking. Increasing the costs to employers of taking on staff will yield no savings to the Department of Social Protection.

Instead of looking to score political points over her Fine Gael opponents and Labour rivals, she should be focused on doing the job she was appointed to, namely to use the resources available to her to protect those hurt by the recession. That is her mandate. She and Minister Reilly have an obligation to those in need of support and care — it is time they focused on them.

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