Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher TD has called on Tánaiste Joan Burton to explain comments where she appeared to walk away from her mandatory health insurance plan. She made the comments in a low key speech at a Labour Party event last Thursday, following a media briefing from Leo Varadkar to The Irish Times on Wednesday where he effectively buried the policy.

Speaking to a small internal event in Cork, Tánaiste Burton said “I have no interest in a “big bang” reform which fails to provide fairly for significant numbers of our citizens. And there is no point in continuing to plan for a system, which would impose impossible demands on the exchequer or on those who pay insurance premiums.”

Deputy Kelleher commented, “Even by the discredited standards of the Labour Party, this u-turn from Minister Burton is spectacular in its cynicism. Clearly panicked by the prospect of being out-manoeuvred by Fine Gael and left as the last person standing defending the policy, she has simply binned the funding model that has been a staple of her party since 2001 and quietly walked away in the hope that no one would notice.

“Over the course of the last five years, Joan Burton and her colleagues happily cheered on the sidelines as James Reilly and then Leo Varadkar told us that mandatory health insurance was the future and that plans were on track. When the obvious problems with the plan could no longer be ignored, Leo Varadkar sought to quietly bury the funding model in a series of ‘reviews’.

“And when the penny finally dropped within the Labour Party that they were being left exposed by their Government colleagues, the Tánaiste tried to follow his lead and hoped a few throwaway lines in a low key speech to a Labour Party event would pass for an explanation of such a fundamental policy u-turn. It doesn’t, and the Tánaiste needs to be honest with the Irish public. Has she, like her Fine Gael colleagues finally recognised that the Fianna Fáil analysis of this issue is correct and that they have to start again?

“Fianna Fáil has been absolutely clear in our rejection of mandatory health insurance as the model for funding the Irish health service. It is over-expensive, unsuited for this country and effectively hands over decisions on healthcare spending to the private sector.

“As in so many other areas, both Fine Gael and Labour’s focus is not on governing but on what manoeuvres are open to them to try and salvage something from the upcoming General Election. When it comes to our health services, both Government parties have shown that five years in, they are completely devoid of ideas or policy.”