Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Southern Health Board Services.


asked the Minister for Health the reason the deputy chief executive officer for the Southern Health Board was recently replaced; the manner in which this occurred; and, in view of his commitments for salary payments for this year, if the Southern Health Board's finances are on a firm footing for 1989.


asked the Minister for Health if, during the recent crisis over Southern Health Board financing, officials of his Department were flown to Cork in an Air Corps airplane for a meeting with the board's chief executive officer (details supplied); if so, the cost; the number of officials who travelled; the duties in which the aircraft is normally engaged; and if these duties were suspended to allow the officials concerned to be flown to Cork.


asked the Minister for Health the exact circumstances which led to the removal from office on Friday, 28 April 1989 of the acting chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board; and the reason for this action.


asked the Minister for Health the estimated cost of providing an Air Corps plane to fly three civil servants to Cork Airport to remove the acting chief executive of the Southern Health Board from office; and the reason other arrangements could not have been made.


asked the Minister for Health if he has satisfied himself that the Southern Health Board can maintain the present level of services for the rest of 1989; and if he will make a statement on the present financial situation of the Southern Health Board.


asked the Minister for Health if the personnel officer's letter of 24 April 1989 reflects the true position within the Southern Health Board in relation to the lay-off of temporary staff and the proposed deferment of salary payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Health if he had any discussions with his Department officials prior to their visit to Cork on 28 April 1989; if he discussed with his officials the removal of the deputy chief executive officer from office, and if he discussed with them the removal of the deputy chief executive officer from his post of programme manager in the general hospital programme.


asked the Minister for Health on whose authority the Southern Health Board chief executive officer (details supplied) was removed from his post; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Health the reason he is refusing to meet a deputation from the Southern Health Board.


asked the Minister for Health if, in view of the deepening crises in the Southern Health Board, it is his intention to order a local public inquiry into the workings of the board in accordance with section 12 of the Health Act, 1970.


asked the Minister for Health if he is in receipt of a cash profile from the Southern Health Board; and, if so, the action he intends to take on foot of the information contained therein.


asked the Minister for Health who authorised the use of an Air Corps airplane to transport officials of his Department to Cork recently.


asked the Minister for Health if he or any officer of his Department has had discussions with the chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board before the acting chief executive officer was removed from his post.


asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the decision of the executive of the Southern Health Board to proceed with the plans to lay off 200 temporary staff; if, in view of the implications this would have for the level of services, especially in district hospitals, the continuing cash crisis in the Southern Health Board and their inability to provide an adequate level of health services, he will increase the cash allocation to the board and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Health if he proposes to increase the financial allocation to the Southern Health Board for the current year; and if he will give an assurance that the board will not experience any further cash flow problems in the current year.


asked the Minister for Health the discussions he had with the Taoiseach in relation to the crisis in the Southern Health Board between 26 April, 1989 and 28 April 1989.


asked the Minister for Health the date on which the chairman of the Southern Health Board or, in his absence, the vice-chairman were informed of the removal of the chief executive officer and the appointment of the new chief executive officer.


asked the Minister for Health if his Department's officials who arrived in Cork on Friday, 28 April 1989 brought with them a cheque to the Southern Health Board for £1.55 million in order to alleviate the cash flow problems which the board were experiencing.

I propose to take together Questions Nos. 3, 6, 11, 12, 15, 19, 24, 26, 30, 36, 38, 42, 43, 48, 62, 63, 64 and 65.

On a point of order, the Minister is taking all these questions together, which will debar supplementaries from Deputies.

It is the Minister's privilege to take questions together. That has been the practice of this House.

I really must protest. Question Time is designed more to conceal information than to reveal it.

The Chair has no function in this matter. It is a matter for the Minister.

On a point of order——

Let us not waste precious time.

We are not wasting time. We are here representing the taxpayers.

Please, Deputy. There is no need to mention such matters.

Question No. 3 deals with a specific item. Why is the Minister taking all the other questions which have no bearing on Question No. 3?

Perhaps the reply will clarify matters.

The questions are all related to the affairs of the Southern Health Board in one specific week. Let me first of all put the record straight in relation to the management changes. The changes made in the management structures in the Southern Health Board on Friday, 28 April 1989 were made by the chief executive officer in accordance with the Health Act. This is what transpired.

A letter issued by the Southern Health Board management on 24 April 1989 indicating that it was most likely that salary payments would be postponed for periods commencing with the first batch of payments due at the end of April 1989. Concern was expressed in Government at the implications of the issue of that letter for the Government's policy on the public finances and indeed on the stability of the system generally. I asked the secretary of my Department and two assistant secretaries with responsibility for financial and personnel matters to meet with the chief executive officer of the health board and to advise him of the Government's concern.

The CEO who had returned to Ireland from annual leave early on the morning of 28 April met with those officers of my Department in Cork Airport on that day. The CEO who is ill, and in fact has been for some time, indicated on being contacted that he would not be resuming duty as he had planned. He would be appointing a deputy and consulting with the chairman of the board as he is required to do under the Health Act, 1970, he appointed Mr. Seán Hurley, programme manager, as deputy chief executive officer as from 28 April 1989. I should make the point that Mr. Walsh's period as Deputy CEO ended with the return of the CEO.

In relation to the letter issued by the personnel officer of the Southern Health Board on 24 April I should make it clear that on being contacted, when I became aware of the issue of the letter, the Southern Health Board's finance officer indicated that the immediate financial situation did not require the postponement of the April salary payments.

I must repeat what I said in this House on the Adjournment debate of 25 April that the main culpability for what has transpired in the Southern Health Board rests with the board members who, unlike other boards, did not either adopt or propose viable alternatives to the course of action proposed to them by management to live within allocation. The fact that this happened and that management did not then submit a cash profile linked to an alternative realistic expenditure profile within budget contributed also to the board's short-term cash difficulties.

This was the subject of discussions with the then deputy chief executive officer and the finance officer on 18 April and arrangements were made for a senior officer of the Department to visit Cork on 27 ultimo to meet and discuss the requirements of that revised expenditure strategy. It was incidentally at that meeting that the need for a timing adjustment of £1.55 million in the original cash profile was identified and not at the meeting of the 28 April as inferred by Deputy Wyse's question.

The Deputy chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board, Mr. Seán Hurley, in consultation as appropriate with departmental officers is undertaking a comprehensive review of the implications of the Southern Health Board revenue allocation for health services in the area and when this review is completed he will be reporting his proposals for living within that allocation to the board. I will at this stage make only one further comment until that report has been received and considered and that is I have guaranteed, as has the deputy CEO, that the salaries of staff employed by the board will be met as they are due and on time to the end of this year.

There is no money available from which additional resource can be made available to the Southern Health Board. The resource made available to me was distributed in an equitable way to all agencies.

So far as Deputies' questions relate to the travelling arrangements for the meeting of 28 April 1989, circumstances combined to make travel by air the most suitable way of travel. There were no seats on the Cork commercial flight leaving Dublin Airport in mid-afternoon and so, with the approval of the Minister for Defence, a flight in the Beechcraft was arranged under the ministerial transport arrangements to fly the officers concerned to Cork. They returned to Dublin on an evening Aer Lingus commercial flight. The cost of the Army flight was £85. The aircraft was not diverted from other duties. Furthermore, there were particular circumstances of urgency in the situation, involving the illness of the CEO and the fact that there was a meeting of the Southern Health Board scheduled for Monday, 30 April. That meeting would have taken place in an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty had the meeting between my officials and the chief executive officer not taken place.

The question of holding a local inquiry under section 12 of the Health Act, 1970, raised by Deputy Quill would arise only if I contemplated removing the Southern Health Board from office.

So far as Deputy Spring's question is concerned, it is my practice to meet with the chairpersons and managements of boards as circumstances require and I will meet with the chairman and management when the deputy CEO's review is completed.

I am satisfied that the Southern Health Board's allocation for 1989 of £132.65 million is sufficient to ensure the delivery of essential health services and I appeal to the members of the board to co-operate fully with management in ensuring the effective delivery of essential health services in the area of their responsibility.

Will the Minister confirm that it was on his instructions and on the instructions of his officials that the CEO of the Southern Health Board, Mr. Dudley, was recalled to Ireland and asked to discharge Mr. Walsh from his duties? Will the Minister confirm that the Southern Health Board notified his Department of the situation in relation to the cashflow in the Department and, effectively, the contents of the letter before it was issued and, irrespective of whether they notified them about the issuing of the letter, that information was made known to the Department? Because of both of those facts would the Minister not now agree that he has made Mr. Walsh the scapegoat for his own mismanagement in this whole affair?

I do not accept what the Deputy is saying about Mr. Walsh being a scapegoat. The CEO was returning from holidays on that date so there was no question of him being called back or invited back.

Was he met off the plane or did he have to arrive specially at the airport?

It was an amazing coincidence.

Deputy Shatter, order please.

If the Deputy will put down a question, I shall be only too delighted to answer it. The substance of the letter was known to officials in my Department before the letter was issued. The acting CEO was in my Department on 18 April and it was agreed that the letter would not be sent out. As a result of that I presume the letter should have been withdrawn because there was sufficient funding available to ensure that the salaries would be paid at the end of April.

Will the Minister now acknowledge that the only way the salaries could be safeguarded this year, the only way the cash crisis could have been averted, was by the decision that was ultimately taken to give the extra £1.5 million within the context of the weekly cashflow allocations from the Department to the health boards? In view of that will the Minister not now clearly acknowledge that he blamed Mr. Walsh for circumstances of which he was more a victim than the culprit?


Hear, hear.

We are having repetition.

I resent what the Deputy is saying. I was in here on the Tuesday night and I laid a lot of the blame on the health board, on Deputy Spring, Deputy Sherlock and other Deputies in the Southern Health Board area who did not face up to their responsibility and adopt a budget such as others did.


Deputies asked questions. Let us hear the reply.

What about taxpayers who are putting up the money to provide proper public health services in the area? Do they have any rights?

The last day on which I answered questions in this House Deputy Quill was the one Deputy who invited me to Cork to sort out the problems, and now when I send the officials to Cork the Deputy is not satisfied either. It does not seem to matter what we do.

To come back to the important point raised by Deputy Yates, the money was there to pay the staff of the health board and the £1.5 million was not necessary to pay them at the end of April. The Southern Health Board were asked to send up to my Department a cash profile for the whole year. That did not come until the Thursday in April when the official of my Department was in Cork and that is part of the reason they had a problem.


The time for dealing with priority questions is exhausted. I must now proceed in accordance with Standing Orders to see to other questions. Deputy Sherlock, please resume your seat.

We have been subjected to political elastoplast.

On a point of order——

The Progressive Democrats have nine questions on the Order Paper today, all designed to assist the Minister to come to terms with the appalling situation in that health board where the health services are about to collapse.

Deputy Quill, please resume your seat.

This issue is very important.

Deputy Quill, please do not show defiance to the Chair. The Chair is merely carrying out the Standing Orders of this House.

We are being muzzled.

May I say to Deputies who feel aggrieved in this matter that they have a right to pursue the matter under the Standing Orders of this House. If Members are dissatisfied with the Minister's reply they have a remedy.

What will happen the health services in the meantime?

Deputy Quill, please. I insist on you either resuming your seat or leaving the House.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Deputy Quill, you will now leave the House.

I am trying to assist the Minister——

Deputy Quill, leave the House, please.

The Deputy is being muzzled and so am I.

Deputy Quill withdrew from the Chamber.

On a point of order——

My name has been mentioned by the Minister and I should have a right to reply.

Deputy Wyse, I have indicated to you and to other Deputies that if you are dissatisfied with the Minister's reply you have a remedy.

I acknowledge that Standing Orders of this House state that priority questions must conclude at 2.45 p.m. Consequently I lose my question No. 4. However, the reply was very lengthy and because 17 questions were taken together it is only reasonable that those questions extend beyond 2.45 p.m. so that this matter can be fully dealt with. There are more than priority questions at issue.

Sorry, Deputy.

On a point of order, unlike Deputy Yates, I accept the ruling of the Chair but I am not aware of the Standing Order which permits any Minister to take ordinary questions in conjunction with priority questions. It is an abuse of the system.

Deputy O'Sullivan, that is quite a normal practice in this House. It happens every day on priority questions. I am proceeding now to Question No. 5.

There are 14 questions that remain unanswered.

That may be so but it is not the fault of the Chair.

The Minister is deliberately refusing to give details——

Deputy Hegarty. I hope the Deputy will co-operate and help the Chair.

On a point of order, there is a precedent in this House whereby if a number of questions are taken together, with agreement there would be an extension of time to deal with the many aspects of those questions.

Deputy Hegarty, it is now six minutes beyond the stipulated time for dealing with priority questions.

On a point of order——

This is the last point of order I will accept.

I would suggest to you, Sir, that the matter is somewhat more complicated than is usually the case. If Deputy Yates's question was the sole question on the issue I would fully accept that the 15 minute rule would apply and the raising of supplementaries on the priority question would exclude further questions but——

Sorry, Deputy Shatter, it is gone so far beyond the appropriate time that I must decline your request.

This is an important matter and it arises——

Deputy Shatter, I must now ask you to resume your seat.

Perhaps you will let me put the matter to you, Sir.

You have put sufficient to me.

You have not allowed me to conclude the point I am trying to make.

I understand your point Deputy. You are seeking extra time and I cannot accede to your request.

On a point of order, Sir, I wish to draw your attention to another rule of the House which indicates that if a Member of this House is mentioned in a manner that might affect his reputation, that Member is entitled to seek leave of the House to respond.

That is a matter for that Deputy.

I would point out to you that the Minister——

The Deputy is embarking on a speech.

——misled the House when he said——

Deputy Shatter, you are seeking to thwart the Chair.

He is proceeding to——

Deputy Alan Shatter, I must ask you to leave the House.

The Minister has misled the House——

Deputy Shatter, leave the House, please.

The Minister should try——

Deputy Shatter, please leave the House.

Deputy Shatter withdrew from the Chamber.

How many people are going to be asked to leave this House?

As long as disorder prevails, Deputy.


You have asked two Deputies to leave the House. How many more will be asked to leave?

Deputy Ivan Yates knows the procedure in this House very well. If this disorder does not cease forthwith I will adjourn questions for today.

We would get just as much information if you did that.

On a point of order——

I have become rather exasperated with spurious points of order, Deputy.

I have the highest respect for your ruling in this House and always had but you will have to defend the rights of Deputies. Under Standing Orders, when a Minister mentions a Deputy's name, has that Deputy not a right to reply to the charge made against him?

If the Deputy wishes to make a personal statement the Chair will facilitate him at an appropriate time.

On a point of order——

Sorry, Deputy.

On a point of order——

I see the Deputy is challenging the Chair. For how long are these points of order going to proceed?

I wish to make a point of order as I deem I have the right to do. The Minister mentioned my name——

Sorry, Deputy. If the Deputy feels aggrieved in respect of a personal reflection he has a remedy. No. 5, please.

I regret the fact that the Deputies had not sufficient time to debate this issue but I would point out that it was the priority question put down by Deputy Yates that upstaged those of his colleagues on the other benches.


The Minister need not have taken all the questions together.

Order, please.

That is an outrageous allegation.

Deputy Yates, please No. 5.


We are entitled to put down——

Deputy Sherlock, resume your seat, please, or leave the House.