Minister not being targeted, says O’Sullivan

There are “no knives” out for embattled Health Minister James Reilly, insisted a Labour Party Cabinet colleague last night, as opposition parties moved to try and oust him.

Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan tried to ease tensions in the Coalition as she warned Labour TDs the country was in no mood for a snap general election, and that the Government had no choice but to work its way through troubled times.

With the Cabinet set to publicly stand over the controversial €130m package of health cuts — including a €30m raid on frontline services such as home-help hours — Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil warned they planned to lay a motion of no confidence in Dr Reilly when the Dáil returns in two weeks time.

As pressure from many Fine Gael and Labour TDs for a reversal of the frontline cuts intensified, behind-the-scenes dealing was believed to be taking place to allow a face-saving Coalition climbdown on the cuts in the coming weeks.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin warned Dr Reilly had to go as he is plunging the HSE into “deep crisis” with the “savage” cuts designed to curb overspends.

However, given the huge Government majority it is unlikely the no-confidence push will succeed. To emphasise this, Labour chairman Colm Keaveney — who sparked uproar at the weekend when indicating his party needed to be ready for a snap general election — expressed “full confidence” in Dr Reilly.

However, a number of Coalition TDs, including Fine Gael’s John O’Mahony and Labour’s Michael McNamara, have called for Dr Reilly to think again on frontline services.

Fine Gael Westmeath TD Ray Butler insisted Dr Reilly should look at cutting the pay of hospital consultants, firstly.

Fine Gael TD and Oireachtas Health Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer, defended the Government decision on the cuts and said every case would be assessed sensitively.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who met Dr Reilly to discuss the issue at the weekend, said the cuts would be carefully considered so as not to harm those most in need, adding that they were primarily a matter for the HSE.

Dublin Labour TD Brendan Ryan insisted the home-care cuts must be reversed and suggested that if the Coalition was “not stacking” up for vulnerable people, the party should consider leaving Government.

Ex-Labour councillor Paul O’Shea, who resigned from Ennis Town Council in protest at the cuts, insisted more people would quit the party over the issue.

He branded the frontline cuts: “An appalling, absurd and unacceptable attack on people’s dignity.”

The brunt of the frontline cuts fall on agency and overtime, home-help hours, home-care packages, the provision of personal assistants, medical equipment and drugs.

The issue is set to dominate today’s Cabinet meeting. Also on the agenda is the looming children’s rights referendum, but no date is expected to be announced for it.

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