Culture Minister Josepha Madigan has claimed she did not give prior approval to a much-criticised letter from her office about a speculated methadone clinic in her constituency - even though her signature is on it.
The document has sparked an angry reaction from doctors who have claimed the sentiment "heaps further stigma" on vulnerable people.
The letter to constituents - which bears the Fine Gael Minister’s signature - states that the TD for Dublin Rathdown is “pleased to reassure local residents that following representation from my office to the Department of Health, I have been informed that a new methadone clinic will not be developed at the Ballinteer Health Centre as the existing services are adequate”.
The letter continues to say that “many people” were concerned about the prospect of such a clinic in Ballinteer following the closure of a similar facility in Baggot Street.
"This health centre is used by many local residents and would not be suitable as a methadone clinic," the letter states.
The comments were criticised by medical professionals after the letter was circulated on social media.
Dr Garrett McGovern, the Medical Director of a Dundrum-based private outpatient clinic that specialises in the treatment of addictions, said the comments in the letter were an example of the stigma around vulnerable people who need such treatment.
As someone who has worked as a doctor in methadone treatment facilities for over 20 years the residents have nothing to fear.
“We've been providing these same services in Dundrum and Churchtown since 1998. The proposed one in Ballinteer was a relocation but will not happen now,” he said on Twitter.
“The "I am pleased to reassure" preface leaves no doubt about the intentions. This is yet another example of stigma been heaped on a marginalised, vulnerable group. Certainly not something to rejoice in,” Dr McGovern said.
Dr Mark Murphy, a GP and Lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland was also critical of the remarks.
“This is shocking from an FG Minister. Actually celebrating the removal of a healthcare service for a vulnerable patient group,” he said on Twitter.
This is shocking from a FG Minister. Actually celebrating the removal of a healthcare service for a vulnerable patient group. https://t.co/zMYEoS2Gkc— Mark Murphy (@DrMarkMurphy) July 31, 2019
The Irish Examiner submitted queries to Ms Madigan’s office, including questioning why she believes the presence of local people in a health centre deems it an unsuitable location for a methadone clinic and the nature of her representations to the Department of Health.
“The Minister fully supports the provision of health services by the Health Services Executive, including methadone services for those requiring them in their community,” a spokesperson said.
“After this issue was raised with her by a number of constituents in January, she asked the HSE to clarify its plans. It confirmed that existing services are adequate. The recent letter to constituents, the wording of which did not receive her prior approval before sending, provides an update on the issue,” the spokesperson said.
The Irish Examiner asked how the Minister can claim not to be aware of the wording of the letter given it bears her signature. A response is awaited.