Taoiseach Enda Kenny has reinforced his unwavering confidence in Health Minister James Reilly amid further calls for the embattled politician’s resignation.
Opposition parties Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein argued the minister’s position was untenable following new revelations over a controversial site selection for primary care centres.
And further pressure was heaped on Dr Reilly after the family of a pregnant Indian woman, who died in a Galway hospital following a miscarriage, gave him a deadline to announce a public inquiry into her death before they go to the European Court of Human Rights.
“I have every confidence in Dr Reilly,” Mr Kenny said.
“The investigations for the case arising from the Galway incident are now under way and I hope they will provide some answers to some unanswered questions and in the shortest possible time.”
Two probes, by the Health Service Executive and the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), are being carried out into the death of Savita Halappanavar.
However, her husband Praveen refused to cooperate with the investigations, calling instead for a sworn public inquiry.
He has given Dr Reilly until Thursday to announce a public inquiry and has threatened to go to Europe with his demands.
His 31-year-old wife died at Galway University Hospital last month following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She suffered from septicaemia.
Mr Halappanavar claimed she was refused an abortion, despite numerous requests after being told the baby would not survive.
The tragedy, which has sparked pro-choice protests around the globe, reignited an ongoing political debate on whether Ireland should legislate on abortion.
Cabinet ministers will discuss an expert group report this week, which is expected to recommend that new laws on limited abortion be introduced.
But the Taoiseach shot down calls for politicians to be given a free vote in the Dail on the issue of abortion, insisting TDs should vote along party lines.
“Our party has been very clear on this issue: people who are elected, sit and vote, and should so in accordance with party decisions,” he added.
The Taoiseach also said the public would not want a situation where women could have abortion on demand.
“The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done,” Mr Kenny said.
“But they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country.”
Elsewhere, opposition parties made calls for the health minister to either step down or be sacked after it emerged he added two sites from his own north Dublin constituency to a priority list for new primary care centres the night before the Government announced its plans.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin announced plans to table a second motion of no confidence in Dr Reilly, after his first was defeated in September.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams claimed Dr Reilly had lost all credibility.
“If the minister hasn’t got the good sense to resign, then he should be sacked and a thorough and comprehensive review must be undertaken of the decisions he took in respect of primary care centres,” said Mr Adams.
However Dr Reilly said there was no justification for Mr Martin’s no confidence motion, adding that, given the chance, he would make the same selection again.
“I have made it very clear, I stand over what I did,” said Dr Reilly.
“If I had it all to do again, I’d do it again. There’s very clearly a need for primary care centres in all the locations that are mentioned.”
The scandal led to the resignation of former junior health minister Roisin Shortall who had had a series of rows with her department boss.
The then minister of state, with responsibility for primary care, had drawn up a list of 20 priority locations for primary care centres that were predominantly in deprived areas.
But Dr Reilly added more locations to Ms Shortall’s list, without her knowledge, before it was announced as part of a Government stimulus package in July.
It emerged over the weekend that the additional sites, which included two from Dr Reilly’s own constituency – in Swords and Balbriggan – were put on the list just hours before the Government announced it.