Before proceeding with Leaders' Questions I have been given notice that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, wishes to make a statement in connection with the resignation of the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall.
Resignation of Minister of State: Statement
I wish to announce for the information of the House that the Taoiseach yesterday accepted the resignation of Deputy Róisín Shortall as Minister of State at the Department of Health.
Did the Tánaiste accept it?
That was on the news.
I call Deputy Michael McGrath.
Some in government might seek to portray the reason for the resignation of Deputy Róisín Shortall as Minister of State at the Department of Health as a personality clash with the Minister, Deputy James Reilly. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a devastating critique of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the entire Government, Deputy Shortall resigned over what she described as a lack of support for the reforms in the programme for Government and the values that underpin it. As Minister of State, Deputy Shortall was forced to articulate in public her frustration at the failure to prioritise the extension of free GP care and the lack of transparency in the selection criteria used for locating new primary care centres. The tipping point came when the Minister, Deputy Reilly, discarded the established criteria for locating new primary care centres and failed to explain why two centres in his constituency jumped the queue ahead of everybody else. The harsh truth is that the Labour Party abandoned Deputy Shortall when she was crying out for support to have the programme for Government implemented in a fair way.
We are assured by the chairman of the Labour Party that the Tánaiste was fulsome in his support of Deputy Shortall at the Labour Party national executive meeting last Saturday-----
Tá sí imithe. She is gone.
-----but he shafted her in public. If that is how the Tánaiste treats his friends I certainly would not like to be one of his enemies. Deputy Shortall has now been sacrificed in favour of the type of politics we have witnessed from the Minister, Deputy Reilly, where Fine Gael constituency considerations are put ahead of established criteria for allocating scarce resources. At the same time the Minister was conferring commercial advantage on a select few. Does the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, agree with Deputy Shortall that decisions on the location of primary care centres must be transparent, based on health need and no other consideration? Was the Minister for Social Protection consulted, as a Cabinet colleague of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, on the choice of the additional 15 centres which were added to the original list of 20? Does she agree with Deputy Shortall that the public have a right to expect that decisions on health will be made in the public interest based on health needs and not driven by other concerns? Will she unequivocally tell the House and the Irish people this morning that she has full and total confidence in Deputy James Reilly as Minister for Health?
Does Deputy McDonald wish to reply to the statement?
Was that Deputy Michael McGrath's response to the statement?
No, I was speaking on Leaders' Questions.
I thought Deputy Michael McGrath indicated that he wished to make a brief contribution.
No, I thought you indicated to me, a Cheann Comhairle to proceed on Leaders' Questions.
That is the normal procedure.
He can start again.
The Deputy can raise the matter on Leaders' Questions if he so wishes. Does Deputy Boyd Barrett wish to make a statement?
A Cheann Comhairle, the Standing Order says there is no debate following a statement.
There is no debate.
Excuse me. The Standing Order allows for it. I received a notice this morning that the Minister was making a statement.
She has already made it.
Ring Eamon and check it out.
Come on, a Cheann Comhairle.
According to the Standing Order, nobody else can make a statement.
No. I can read it out for Deputy Stagg. Further statements may be allowed at the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle from a spokesperson nominated by a party in opposition.
Where is Deputy Paul Kehoe?
I will call Deputy McDonald and then the next Deputy.
I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I was not aware that I would have the opportunity.
I thought the Deputy was indicating her wish to contribute. On the one hand I am accused of not allowing statements and now the opposite is the case. Deputy McDonald should make a brief statement.
There seems to be a lot of confusion over there.
I thought no response would be allowed to the statement by the Minister, Deputy Burton.
Deputy Mattie McGrath would want to be quiet because nobody will be looking for any work from him as all his family members have taken the jobs.
When the Minister made her statement I called for responses. I call Deputy McDonald. Will Members please cool down?
On a point of order, I was notified by phone that there would be a statement and responses by party leaders, and that the only one who would be able to make a response from our group, with which we were very unhappy, was Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, not that we were unhappy with him but-----
Could I make the point? I was subsequently informed by someone from your office, a Cheann Comhairle, that there would be no responses to the statement.
It was not by my office.
It was not with my knowledge.
Blame the staff, a Cheann Comhairle.
How are we to function if we are getting mixed messages from the Ceann Comhairle's office?
A Cheann Comhairle-----
Will the Deputy please resume his seat?
The point being made by Deputy Murphy is correct.
The Deputy should resume his seat for a moment. I received a letter by fax this morning from the Chief Whip's office telling me that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, wished to make a statement on the resignation of the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall. I checked the Standing Order which says that a short reply may be made by party spokespersons. Out of courtesy, I asked my office to indicate to the parties that given the circumstances I would allow a short statement. That is what I understood Deputy Michael McGrath was doing.
But, a Cheann Comhairle-----
Will Deputy Ó Fearghaíl please sit down?
I will, but-----
Let there be no discussion on the matter. That is what I agreed, as Ceann Comhairle, and I am proceeding on that basis. If Deputy McDonald-----
A Cheann Comhairle, please-----
What is wrong with making a statement?
The Ceann Comhairle refers more frequently than anybody else to the role of the Whips in deciding the way in which business will be processed. He repeatedly makes that point, and correctly so. I respect the point he makes now. My point is that we were given no notification-----
-----and no kind of understanding that the matter would be dealt with in this manner on the day.
The Independents and the Technical Group get it but we are the biggest Opposition party.
I understood all parties would be informed that a statement was being made.
We were not informed.
They were not informed.
It is a breakdown of communications. I am sorry. I was-----
It is a disgrace.
Do you mind? I was only trying to be helpful.
We appreciate that.
If I did not allow a statement Deputies would be jumping up and down asking why they could not make a statement. They should make up their minds.
Does Deputy Boyd Barrett wish to make a short statement? Very short, please. I ask Deputies to allow the Deputy to make a statement.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, should go. It is clear from the resignation of the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, that he did not have the trust and confidence of the person who worked most closely with him. It could not be more serious - a junior Minister has resigned over the manner in which the primary care centres were selected. The failure of the Minister to give his own Minister of State an adequate explanation as to the criteria used to select those extra 15 primary care centres is of grave concern. It indicates, as a certain Minister suggested at the weekend, the possible return of stroke politics.
It is also difficult not to see a coincidence in the fact that two of the extra sites selected were in the Roscommon area, where the Fine Gael party has suffered so badly politically as a result of its move to close down the accident and emergency department in Roscommon hospital. Notwithstanding the differences some of us on this side of the House may have had with the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, she has shown real principle in resigning on this matter and in demanding transparency and accountability when important decisions must be made, such as selecting sites for primary care centres.
Thank you, Deputy.
It should give pause for thought to the Labour Party as a whole that the situation has come to this. Does it really want to stay part of a Government in which one of its more senior figures no longer has confidence-----
Join the Technical Group.
-----or does it want to stand on its own political principles, in the tradition of James Connolly, with the working people of this country who are being slaughtered-----
We know more about James Connolly.
-----by the cuts the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and this Government are imposing on them? The Labour Party should now think long and hard about whether it wants to remain in a Government of which one of its most senior figures has decided she can no longer be part.