Deputy Billy Kelleher: This morning, we should be discussing AIB's mortgage interest rate increase or the Exchequer returns. Instead, we find the sordid, grubby affair of primary care centre selection dominating the headlines again.
I have been trying to get clarity on this issue for some time. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, told the House that he consulted his Cabinet colleagues and officials and changed the criteria and selection process to ensure a broader selection of primary care centres, two of which were in his constituency. This morning came the revelation that there were close political ties between one of the owners of the site and the Minister.
Let us be clear. We just want to get to the bottom of this matter. I have a couple of questions for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, because the Minister for Health is avoiding answering them. We are concerned that health needs are being decided on a Minister's whim that is itself based on political ties rather than need.
Let us be clear. It is not just I who is saying this. Deputy Shortall, a former colleague in the party of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, resigned and stated she had to throw in the towel because of stroke politics.
This clearly indicates there are difficulties in how primary care sites were selected as well as concerns regarding close political ties between the owner and the Minister.
That the Minister's decision conferred commercial and financial advantage on individuals is a serious issue.
I have three questions for the Minister for Education and Skills. Was he consulted about the changed criteria in the primary care site selection process, was he aware of the political ties between the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the landowner of the Balbriggan site, and is he comfortable with the decision process and the fall-out from same?
Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health, Deputy Kelleher is well aware of the background to all of this. He asked numerous questions and I understand he tabled questions to the Minister last week. If the Deputy is unable to table a question and pursue a correct and detailed answer from the Minister directly involved, it is more a reflection on Deputy Kelleher.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I am quite satisfied, on the information I have received from the Minister, that the location of the site in Balbriggan is in accordance with the selection criteria. The story in today's edition of the Irish Independent is one that the Minister has dealt with satisfactorily. If Deputy Kelleher has detailed questions, which clearly he has, but to which he has failed so far to get a satisfactory answer from his point of view, I suggest he put them directly to the Minister.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: With all due respect, the House deserves a better reply than that from the Minister, Deputy Quinn.
It was glib and trite. This is a serious issue. A Minister of State in the party of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, resigned and described what occurred as stroke politics. For him to pass it off glibly and to cast aspersions on my ability to ask questions is not good enough. I have tabled questions, but I have not been given answers. As the leader on the Government benches sitting opposite me today, is he comfortable with the fact that his former colleague resigned not only as a Minister of State but also as a member of the Labour Parliamentary Party because she failed to get support from her party colleagues in her attempt to get to the bottom of this issue?
The Minister for Health has conferred financial and commercial gain on individuals with whom he has political ties. There were posters inside someone's house and they pulled Christmas crackers with one another at chamber of commerce dinners yet the Minister, Deputy Quinn, glibly claims that this is not an issue.
In the past, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, entered the Chamber looking for heads for lesser issues. He should at least hold the Minister for Health to account instead of blaming me.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Deputy Kelleher has attempted to use the protection of this House to suggest there was some financial impropriety in-----
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I did not. I said financial gain, not impropriety.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: -----conferring a financial advantage on a political supporter.
The site in question was selected by Ms Mary Harney when she was the Minister for Health and Children.***
***THIS WAS LATER CORRECTED ON THE RECORD OF THE HOUSE BY MINISTER JAMES REILLY. THE SITE WAS NOT CHOSEN BY FORMER MINISTER HARNEY