Ireland’s coalition government has been left reeling after a junior minister resigned amid a breakdown of relations with Health Minister Dr James Reilly.
Labour’s Róisín Shortall walked out of her Department of Health post and the pact with Fine Gael citing a lack of support for agreed reforms.
“It is no longer possible for me to fulfil my role as Minister of State for Primary Care because of lack of support for the reforms in the programme for government and the values which underpin it,” she said.
But the bigger issue for the coalition is the shattered ministerial relations amid rows over the location of new primary care centres – a responsibility of the junior minister.
Disputes between the pair came to a head in the last week on the back of a falling-out over the announcement of Health Service Executive cuts and a lack of consultation.
Controversy deepened after Dr Reilly added two towns in his north Dublin constituency to a priority list for the location of new care centres.
The original list, based largely on need in poorer areas, had been drawn up by Ms Shortall. She held two meetings with Dr Reilly over the move but failed to get satisfactory explanations.
Ms Shortall said: “The public have a right to expect that decisions on health infrastructure and staffing will be made in the public interest, based on health need and not driven by other concerns.
“This decision comes after repeated and lengthy efforts to reach agreement on the implementation of the programme for government, both within the Department of Health and across government.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore who is in New York to address the United Nations, were notified of the resignation in the evening.
“I’m disappointed and I regret the fact that the deputy has taken a decision to resign,” Mr Kenny said.
“I understand the challenges that face any public representative who has to make a choice like this.”
The Taoiseach said some of Ms Shortall’s plans to tackle alcohol abuse were due to be assessed by the Government next week.
The Tánaiste added: “I wish to restate my determination to the full implementation of the commitments in the Programme for Government on health service reforms.”
Ms Shortall joins former junior minister Willie Penrose, who resigned over the closure of army barracks in Mullingar, and TDs Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty on the Labour sidelines.
A TD in Dublin North West, she took up the junior health role in March last year, with the roll-out of free GP care and the National Drugs Strategy among her duties.
One of Ms Shortall’s key reform agendas had been to push for the banning of alcohol advertising in sport.
There was opposition across the backbenches to such a move.
Opposition TDs rounded on Dr Reilly and claimed the wrong person had resigned.
Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil health spokesman, said it was outrageous the coalition allowed Ms Shortall to resign.
“Minister Reilly’s tenure at the Department of Health has been one of disorder, disappointment and dysfunction,” he said.
Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said: “It’s Minister Reilly and his cuts regime who should be going, rather than a junior minister.”
Mr Nulty was the first Labour representative to leap to his colleague’s defence.
He said Ms Shortall was dedicated to the creation of equality in the health service and was prepared to stand up to vested interests.
“I have no doubt that Roisin has the support of the Labour Party grass roots,” he said.
Emmet Stagg, Labour’s chief whip, said: “Róisín has been a colleague of mine for many years, and it is a matter of regret that she is stepping down.
“It is very unfortunate that the issues that recently arose within the Department of Health could not be resolved.”