Our Health Minister James Reilly has an almost impossible job. Being Deputy Leader of the main government party usually brings with it enormous kudos. Instead in this government his role as deputy leader of Fine Gael is often forgotten both in the media and in politics. He is technically one heart beat away from being Taoiseach. Politically he is an Irish mile away from ever being Taoiseach. Until the 2011 election Reilly had an outstanding reputation on the floor of the Dail as he harried Mary Harney about misdiagnoses, co-location and health cuts. When the right wing of Fine Gael failed to ditch Enda Kenny 2 years ago Reilly was the surprise appointment to replace Richard Bruton as FG’s new no 2.
That all seems an age ago now. To his credit the mammoth that was once the HSE is on its way out the door. The extension to Wexford General Hospital did get the nod from his department although I’ve been known to credit my colleague Brendan Howlin with that on one or two occasions! I get the feeling that for Dr Reilly the tide may be turning within his own party. My ears pricked up recently when I heard a TD who was passed over for preferment by Enda Kenny say on radio he’d bought a 2nd hand Merc. As one who likes to read political tea leaves that was an interesting statement given that ministers are required to provide their own car. Reilly remains surprisingly to me one heart beat away from controversy. I’m not going to rehash the Revenue or Stubbs controversy but these do raise eyebrows. The country pile and how salaries at the top end of the health service seem to remain immune to cuts are also mentioned in despatches.
North Dublin politics is rough as I well know from my time living there. To give him credit he re-invigorated Fine Gael in Fingal after they lost their seat there when he could have stayed outside and developed his successful practice and continue in medical politics. His FG predecessors there were steeped in FG history and while he won his seat easily he doesn’t have the sense of FG tradition of a Kenny or Bruton.
Looking forward to the end of the year, all ministers will have a tough estimate to thrash out given the targets set by the Troika. I may be alone now in detecting in FG an isolation of his position given Leo Varadkar’s accurate clarification of the government position on the CPA but given all that this government has been through in the last 18 months one wonders if there may be a reshuffle in the offing after the budget and referendum are out of the way? The ministerial crown (no pun intended Senator!) may be on Reilly’s head but is there just now a question mark over how long more it may be there?