As controversy continued to rage over revelations in the Medical Independent that he signed off on paying six outside advisers more than €21,000 each for just six weeks’ work, opposition parties branded the minister “bizarre”.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher ridiculed Dr Reilly’s refusal to admit that he had performed a U-turn over planned cuts to disability funds despite the Taoiseach acknowledging the move as a “reverse”.
“Minister Reilly’s ‘it wasn’t me’ defence is not only totally implausible, it is an insult to patients and the wider public.
“Since the beginning of this controversy, Minister Reilly has sought to hide behind the HSE for his own political decisions.
“This latest tactic of blaming the HSE, which he controls, for cuts to personal assistants [for disabled and elderly people] is nothing more than a desperate attempt to save his own skin.
“The news of these cutbacks caused extreme distress to hundreds of patients, their families and carers across the country. If the cut to PAs was never due to happen, why did Minister Reilly stay silent for nearly a week while chaos erupted all around him? Why did the Taoiseach congratulate him for his ‘courageous’ U-turn, if there was no cut to reverse in the first place?”
Making his first public appearance for nearly a week, Dr Reilly insisted that the personal assistant cuts “were never going to happen”.
The minister claimed he made it clear to the HSE that cuts to such funds had to be a “last resort”.
Dr Reilly said it would be “morally bankrupt” to withdraw such assistance from people.
However, this version of events appeared at odds with remarks from the Taoiseach that Dr Reilly should be “admired” for the “reverse” he had carried out regarding personal assistants.
The row continued to simmer as Social Protection Minister Joan Burton urged pensioners to not be “too worried” at the possibility of losing their entitlement to free travel.
“Well if I were them I wouldn’t be enormously worried. I want to put on record how much I value, and the Government values, the free transport scheme. It’s certainly my intention to be very clear to people that it has been a very valuable resource and benefit for seniors,” she said.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection, Willie O’Dea, insisted that it was time for Ms Burton to rule out any cuts in the €75m free travel budget to put people’s minds at rest.