The Minister of State at the Department of Health Roisin Shortall has resigned in a row over political interference in the siting of new healthcare facilities.
In a statement this evening, Ms Shortall said she could longer fulfill the role because of a “lack of support for the reforms in the programme for government and the values that underpin it.”
She also resigned from the parliamentary Labour Party.
Ms Shortall said her decision had come after repeated and lengthy efforts to secure the implementation of the programme for government, which was agreed by Labour and Fine Gael in coalition last year.
“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,” she said.
Her resignation came just days after she made public the ‘last minute’ decision by the Minister for Health James Reilly to add two towns in his own electoral area to a priority list for new primary care centres.
That decision has been widely condemned as a typical example of Ireland’s ‘stroke’ [corrupt] politics. However, Reilly has been defended by the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, as well as by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.
The surprise resignation has left her former colleagues struggling to respond. It has exposed divisions not only in the coalition, but also within the Labour Party, which is increasingly divided between its traditional membership and more conservative elements associated with the former Democratic Left, with which it merged in 1999.
Sinn Fein Health spokesperson Caoimhghin O Caolain said the development was “a body blow” to the Coalition.
“It’s Minister Reilly and his cuts regime who should be going, rather than a junior Minister,” he said.
“When the row between Ministers Reilly and Shortall erupted we stated that there was deep dysfunction at the helm of our Health Services. The resignation of Roisin Shortall bears this out in the most dramatic fashion.
“The charges against the Coalition in former Minister Shortall’s resignation statement are very serious - especially for the Labour Party. She charges that they are not adhering to their own Programme for Government, including its underlying principles and commitment to health reform.
“How can a Minister who will not publish the criteria for selection of primary care centre locations deliver the much more extensive and widespread Health reforms - supposedly based on equity - promised by both parties in Government?”
Mr O Caolain said Mr Reilly had continued the harsh regime of health cuts begun by his notorious predecessor, Mary Harney, and ignored the concerns of patients and healthcare workers, as well as those of his own junior Ministerial colleague.
“This Coalition has adopted a futile and anti-people economic strategy of austerity that attacks public services, most especially our health services,” he said.
“That is more than enough reason for every Labour Minister to resign and for every Labour Deputy to withdraw support from this Government.”
Ms Shortall, a TD in Dublin North West, was first elected to the Dail in 1992.