Over the last 20 years, oversight for Ireland’s public health has rested in the hands of many prime advertisements of healthy lifestyles. P. Kolbe takes a look.
Brian Cowen and Michael Noonan reigned in the 1990s – men whose figures were honed by life-long dedication to strenuous pint-swilling regimes. At the turn of the millennium Michael Martin provided a break from the tradition of clinical obesity as the primary qualification for the job and actually introduced an anti-obesity campaign which included a proposal for a fast food tax. It turned out that this was, in fact, merely an elaborate set up for the punchline that was Mary Harney, who combined a love for stuffing her face with the finest foods known to humanity with a transparent hatred for the sick and poor. Oh how we laughed.
Reilly is Fine Gael’s comedic riposte to Harney. Not only does he boast a traditionally obese girth, but he sports a bulbous and ruddy complexion that hints at a staple diet of burgundy and truffles. He has the unusual distinction of actually being a qualified Doctor. However, upon closer examination of his record, one begins to suspect that his interpretation of “duty of care” extends all the way from his belly to his wallet.
During the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, Reilly demonstrated his love for the public health system by investing heavily in private health business ventures, including a €15m primary care centre near Dublin airport and a multi-million euro private nursing home in Tipperary. When the nursing home investment went belly-up, he failed to pay his share of the €1.9 million outstanding debt and ended up on Stubbs’ list of debt defaulters. This was a first for a serving minister in Ireland. Considering the rogues’ gallery who have served as ministers in this country, one can’t help but be impressed by somebody who manages to distinguish himself by being the first to such an achievement.
However, Reilly can’t be accused of neglecting the public sector altogether. When it comes to the question of drawing down payments, he is an obvious fan of the state economy. In 2009 and 2010, he received a total of €674,165 from the department of health for his work as a medical-card GP, while also having a full time job as a TD which paid him another €100,000 or so with expenses on top. Somehow Reilly managed to fulfil the responsibilities of both of these full-time jobs while also having enough free time to manage his large property portfolio and various investments – including a major shopping centre in Lusk and various plots of land around the country. No wonder he is paid so well – his talents and time management skills are clearly in an elite class.
Along the way, Reilly also managed to accumulate enough wealth to acquire a stately home in Offaly and a fleet of classic cars. This surely helps to explain his failure to pay his debts – the cost of keeping a mansion with 13 bedrooms in these times of austerity must be simply dreadful. Naturally the state helps him out with significant tax breaks for his troubles. However, when one considers the cost of petrol nowadays and the poor fuel efficiency of classic cars, there is surely a strong case for further state subsidies for the hard pressed minister. There are few among us who are dedicated enough to our national historical heritage that they will steadfastly keep the traditions of the gentry alive into our modern era.
Reilly’s recent bout of media attention has dwelt on the mysterious last minute addition of 2 new primary care centres to the HSE’s plans. The fact that both of them happen to be in Reilly’s North Dublin constituency is surely a coincidence. The fact that one of them is due to be built on land owned by one of his cronies can only be random chance. And, when Reilly started by simply denying that anything unusual had happened at all, then it merely goes to fully prove his bona fides – we can hardly expect such a multi-talented and busy individual to remember such trifling details.
The villain of the latest affair was Reilly’s understudy in the department of health – Roisin Shortall. She made the schoolgirl error of publicly criticising the minister. Somehow she had arrived at the bizarre idea that high-falutin concepts such as ‘conflict of interest’ and fancy foreign words such as ‘ethics’ and ‘principles’ applied in Irish politics. Happily, the upstart was quickly put in her place and ousted from her role, as all of her Labour party colleagues rallied around minister Reilly. Her apparent belief that the choice of public health centres should be based on expert-judged criteria rather than ministerial largesse threatened to undermine the most dearly shared principle of Irish politics – keeping the rabble from interfering.