The Oireachtas will break up tomorrow for its Chrissy holliers and won’t be back unil the 16th January 2012, but the final debates of 2012 today didn’t display much Seasonal goodwill.
Sinn Fein again returned to the issue of Minister for Health James Reilly’s controversial “bumping-up” of two sites in his Dublin constituency for development as primary care centres. Since the “bumping-up” in July 2012, there has been the highest-ranking resignation so far of this Coalition administration with junior health minister Rosin Shortall baling out, criticising the Minister for engaging in stroke politics.
Two distinct issues have emerged – the apparent pork-barrelling of siting two health facilities in the Minister’s constituency which might serve to bolster the Minister’s chances of re-election and secondly, the selection of a site belonging to a developer who is both an associate of the Minister and a borrower at NAMA.
It was the second of these issues that was the subject of the final Leaders Questions this morning, where Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald tackled An Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in the wake of papers, recently released to Sinn Fein under the Freedom of Information legislation, and which Sinn Fein allege showed that in advance of the Minister meeting with NAMA in April 2012, that the specific site belonging to the Minister’s associate at 66,68,70 Dublin Street, Balbriggan had been examined by the Minister. The Minister has always maintained that he did not discuss or refer to the specific site at Dublin Street when he met with NAMA in April 2012, but it seems that it wouldn’t take much to conclude the reference by Minister Reilly at his meeting with NAMA to a site “currently used as a car park” in Balbriggan was in fact the site at Dublin Street.
A copy of the Freedom of Information documents has been requested.
Deputy McDonald went on to charge the Minister with corruption, and in response to that, An Tanaiste invited Deputy McDonald to repeat that accusation outside the Dail where such charges wouldn’t be immune to legal action for defamation. And remembering that Sinn Fein is nursing a €100,000 defamation damages case in Northern Ireland this week – plus legal costs estimated at €400,000 on top– there might be no immediate appetite to put Party finances at risk. It should be said that Sinn Fein is said to be considering an appeal in this defamation case.
An Tanaiste this morning said that an internal audit probe into political influence over the selection of the site in Balbriggan has in October 2012 uncovered no evidence of untoward influence. That internal audit may now come in for intense focus to ensure its scope, resourcing and terms of reference were adequate to investigate the matter. Minister Reilly has always maintained the site in Balbriggan was selected after applying appropriate selection criteria.
The controversy hasn’t gone away, you know.