Yesterday I received another large bundle of freedom of information documents on the selection of primary care centres and the addition of centres at Swords and Balbriggan. One might be suspicious on the eve of budget day to get such a large selection of documents because it is a classic way to bury material that the Government might not want people to see but, on a quick read through the documents, they clearly reveal a story of the selection of those sites which is much different to the one that was revealed by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, over repeated questions in this House, not to mention the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly.
The freedom of information documents show the list of 33 locations was signed off by the Taoiseach and Deputy Gilmore on Friday, 13 July and, significantly, that list does not include Balbriggin and Swords. However, on Monday, 16 July, there was a flurry of e-mails between the office of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the Department of Health and others. At 6.02 p.m. on the night before the Cabinet meeting, Swords and Balbriggin were still not on the list. By 6.22 p.m., 20 minutes later, they are on the list. Then written on a significant e-mail, at approximately half past seven that Monday evening, by officials is the following:
Monday evening ... discussed with Maureen Windle [who is the Minister's adviser]. Bairbre advised M Windle in relation to Swords - article in ... [the Irish Independent]. I advised M Windle in relation [to] Balbriggin - recent response to rep signed by Minister for Town Clerk in Balbriggin re leased PCC site location decided - latest is that price is agreed.
Ten minutes later, the adviser, Ms Windle, consults the Minister and gets the response from the Minister that "both Swords & Balbriggin will stay".
The key point here is that these are commercial decisions. A public private partnership, PPP, is a different model to a lease model. A lease model had been agreed. Is it right that a Minister should interfere in such a manner in the commercial arrangement which confers benefit on private sector stakeholders because the PPP model is a much more bankable proposition than the lease model? That is the key. Unfortunately, this is much more than mere political strokes.
The key question here is this. Does the Taoiseach accept that it is wrong for a Minister to get so involved in the detailed selection of public private partnerships and in the modality of the commercial relationship between the State and private sector consortia?