Michael McGimpsey and Martin McGuinness were at loggerheads today after the North's deputy first minister rebuked his colleague for missing a North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting in Dublin.
The health minister’s department said he was not expected to be there - although radiotherapy and child protection were among the items mentioned. Most of the detail of the agreement is put together at preparatory meetings which the South Belfast Ulster Unionist did attend, a spokeswoman added.
But Mr McGuinness said he was disappointed.
“I also want to put on record my disappointment that our health minister had not been at this meeting,” he said.
“In fact there have been quite a number of meetings of the North South Ministerial Council that he has not attended and I think that’s a mistake given that we are talking about these important issues, things like child protection, the whole issue of radiotherapy and many other issues that are relevant to his department.”
He spoke after a NSMC meeting in Farmleigh, Dublin, hosted by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and including DUP first minister Peter Robinson.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “NSMC plenary meetings are, as the name suggests, meetings open to all members of the NSMC. However, from the outset it was clear that all ministers are not expected to attend these meetings unless they have specific input to them.
“Minister McGimpsey has attended all five NSMC sectoral meetings, and plenary sessions when able. He provided briefings for this meeting in Dublin.”
Health minister Mary Harney was not present today.
Mr Cowen said the Government will provide part of the funding for a new radiotherapy centre in Derry.
He said one in three cancer patients in Donegal would be using the facility.
“I think that’s another excellent example where mutual benefit derives from co-operation and joint funding in some respects,” he added.
Mr McGuinness expressed his appreciation to the Taoiseach for the support for the centre at Altnagelvin Hospital, which he said would service the people of the north-west and Donegal who’ve had to travel long distances for treatment.
The economy was also discussed as politicians north and south considered how their administrations can work together to improve services.
Specific areas of cross-border co-operation were also on the agenda, including infrastructure.
It was the first full session of the NSMC since Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness argued in front of the cameras about the devolution of justice last December.
Mr Robinson also held talks with President Mary McAleese.
He said the meeting focused on helping areas of disadvantage, in Belfast in particular, and also on the prospect of a visit to Ireland by the Queen.
He added he hoped that the same respect that he showed to President McAleese would be shown to the Queen when she visits the Republic.
The British and Irish governments are planning the Queen’s first state visit to Ireland before the end of next year.