Reilly faces Cabinet grilling over ‘political slush fund’ row

A row over the fast-tracking of hospital improvements in ministerial constituencies has forced its way onto the Cabinet agenda.

Health Minister James Reilly is expected to brief colleagues over the controversy which erupted after it emerged he intervened to speed up work in the constituencies of Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

With Fianna Fáil accusing Mr Reilly of using the HSE like a “political slush fund”, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the situation needed explaining.

“No doubt Dr Reilly will be talking to the Cabinet. No one is suggesting that the work that was done should not have been done,” Mr Quinn said.

“But we will just have to see what exactly has happened and it will be for Dr Reilly to tell us.”

Mr Hogan accused Fianna Fáil of “trying to undermine” a new facility at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny.

Files released to RTÉ under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Dr Reilly told the HSE to “accelerate” the projects at Wexford General Hospital in Mr Howlin’s constituency, and St Luke’s in Mr Hogan’s, and that statements about the work were made by the two ministers before the HSE board was told. Mr Howlin insisted details for the announcement of the project in his constituency came from the HSE.

The two ministers announced the commencement of work on their local hospitals days before a HSE board meeting on Jun 9, 2011, at which the ministerial announcements were queried.

Board minutes show the HSE director of estates, Brian Gilroy, told that meeting he was unaware of the timescale that the ministers promised for the proposed hospital upgrades.

Mr Gilroy wrote to the Department of Health saying extra money would be needed if the upgrades to the two emergency departments were to be completed in the timelines announced by both ministers. An extra €20m would be needed for the work in Wexford and over €14m for Kilkenny.

An exchange of emails between Mr Gilroy and the department reveals an extra €12m was approved for Wexford General Hospital by Mr Howlin’s department, while improvements in Kilkenny were to be financed by “efficiencies” in hospital equipment budgets.

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