From a media perspective, Dr James Reilly is certainly the bonus that keeps on giving. The latest controversy over his preference for hospital extensions in Wexford and Kilkenny following representations from his two cabinet colleagues, Brendan Howlin and Phil Hogan, has landed him back in the deep but other matters from his dimmish past continue to haunt him.
His business association, for example, with serial re-zoner, Anne Devitt – his party colleague in north Dublin who was forced to resign from Fine Gael in the wake of the Mahon tribunal report last year – has the potential to further destabilise the health minister’s political future. The tribunal found that she was compromised when, between 1994 and 1997, she promoted a planning application by the Cargobridge consortium on lands near the airport, assistance for which the company agreed to pay despite her position as a prominent county councillor.
Others caught up in the Cargobridge controversy included current chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness (FF), who helped his brother Michael, a principal of the company, to secure a right of way by making representations on the matter to former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds in 1992.
Reilly, of course, was partnered by Devitt in his ill-fated Carrick-on-Suir nursing home investment which resulted in his entry in Stubbs Gazette last year, but a more recent controversy also has the minister on the back foot.
As has been widely reported, he served on the remuneration committee of the Irish Medical Organisation when it cleared the phenomenal €20 million (now reduced to €9.7 million) pension for its general secretary, George McNeice, back in 2004.
He also served with McNeice on the board of the www.mygp.ie website which was funded by the HSE to the tune of £2.3 million before it was taken down in 2007.
The company, which provided consumer health information, collapsed amid an acrimonious legal dispute with the HSE which was resolved through arbitration and a ‘confidential settlement’.
Reilly stepped down as a director of the company in August 2006 but has remained as joint, non-beneficial, shareholder. The website was funded through the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics at St James Hospital, Dublin through a scheme that involved the reinvestment of savings made by GPs in their drug costs.