independent

Saturday 17 August 2019

Hard to see where cuts can be made

IT'S NOT as if we didn't know our health service was in a bad way, but if the latest figures are anything to go by the case is terminal. With waiting lists twice as long as we thought at 340,000 and some 16,600 people waiting four years for clinic appointments, it's hard to see how any more can be cut from a health system that is growing from a lack of direction and beneficial investment.

Some years ago, we were told that more money was going to frontline services and less to a bloated and top heavy bureacracy.

That we were told was just what the doctor ordered and would help sort things out once and for all.

The opposite is true and things are much worse than they were.

And the doctor we now have in charge wants to cut more funds from an already slimmed down budget.

Just where €130 million in cuts can be achieved over the next three months is an enigma, the answer to which only Dr. James O'Reilly perhaps know the answer.

But then perhaps that is too much to expect for a minister who is clearly struggling to fulfill his brief.

Another minister with problems is Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

In the wake of Minister Howlin's failed review of cutting back a raft of public-sector allowances. the government's spending watchdog has stepped in.

Minister Howlin abolished just one of a litany of silly allowances, which include knicker allowances for female members of the defence force and a tuck shop allowance for prison officers.

Just why Minister Howlin failed to deliver has yet to be satisfactorily explained.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said he would allow the committee to question the heads of public bodies on the payment of allowances.

' The Committee of Public Accounts can do a very good job for the taxpayer by putting all allowance payments under public scrutiny, and that is what we intend to do on a case-by-case basis,' he said.

Forgive me, but isn't that what the Minister was supposed to oversee - clearly his heart wasn't in it.

Minister Howlin was already due to appear before the Public Accounts Committee next month to answer questions from TDs on Croke Park Agreement, but he will now also be questioned on why only one allowance from 1,100 was cut this week.

This allowance will reduce the €1.5bn bill by just €3.5m, and Minister Howlin admitted a target of €75m in savings would not be met.

As a Labour minister he may be somewhat reluctant and uncomfortable about tackling issues that would put him at odds with the unions.

The problem for the country is that tough decisions need to be made for the good of all and whether or not those decisions are popular with sections of the electorate you may be beholden to for your support is irrelevant. Given what's happened, Croke Park 2 may not be far off.

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