A “completely unacceptable” attempt by Health Minister James Reilly to access detailed files on potential primary care sites has been described as a “misunderstanding” by high-ranking officials.
The situation has been revealed in internal correspondence between an assistant for Dr Reilly and the Department of Health secretary-general, Ambrose McLoughlin.
Freedom of Information records show that, two months after the resignation of health junior minister Roisin Shortall over claims that Dr Reilly was interfering in what new centres were chosen, the minister’s assistant, Tom O’Leary, sought a detailed progress report on the issue.
The Nov 2012 email included requests for what leases had been issued, which projects were still being negotiated, what terms and planning permission had been agreed at some centres, the capital value of the projects, and potential staffing levels.
However, following Dr McLoughlin’s refusal to provide any of the details, as the request was “completely unacceptable”, Mr O Leary — who left the post in January — wrote to say his seeking of the records had been a “misunderstanding”.
Despite specifically stating that Dr Reilly wanted the files, Mr O’Leary’s second correspondence said he was mistaken and that Dr Reilly only wanted a general update on the matter.
While a spokesperson for Dr Reilly emphasised this point yesterday, accepting that it would not be appropriate for Dr Reilly to view these files, the issue has reignited the controversy surrounding last year’s primary care scandal.
In Sept 2012, it emerged that 15 primary care centres, including two in Dr Reilly’s constituency, had been added to a list of potential public-private partnership sites.
The centres, it was said, were closely connected to voter support in different parts of the country.
The final 16-site list was published by the HSE earlier this month. Boyle in Co Roscommon was the only one of the 15 locations added by Dr Reilly that made the final list.
After learning of the Nov 2012 correspondence yesterday, Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin praised Dr McLoughlin for refusing to provide the information, saying it would be wrong to disclose commercial detail to the minister.
Former Fine Gael TD and current Reform Alliance representative Denis Naughten said Dr Reilly must immediately quickly clarify why the request prompted such a strong reaction from the secretary-general of his own department.
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