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Reilly under fire in new hospital row

HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly is set to face a Dail grilling after allegations that he fast-tracked hospital upgrades for ministerial colleagues Phil Hogan and Brendan Howlin.

The embattled minister has landed himself in yet another favouritism controversy amid accusations that Cabinet members used the HSE capital budget as a "slush fund".

Hospitals in Environment Minister Phil Hogan's Kilkenny constituency and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin's Wexford were announced locally by the ministers, unknown to the HSE board, it has emerged.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, who also sits at the Cabinet table, is understood to have pushed Wexford's case.

Fianna Fail said it showed the ministers used the HSE capital budget as a "slush fund" for constituency gain, while Sinn Fein called the latest details "damning in the extreme". It comes in the wake of Dr Reilly being engulfed in controversy last year after he bumped two towns in his own constituency up a priority list of primary care centres.

New records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal Dr Reilly requested the hospitals in Mr Howlin, Mr Kehoe and Mr Hogan's backyards be "accelerated in the HSE's capital programme".

The developments were an emergency department and maternity unit in Wexford General Hospital and an emergency department and assessment unit and day services unit in St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny.

The records released to RTE's This Week radio programme also show Mr Howlin's department sanctioned an additional €12m for the Wexford upgrade, while the Kilkenny upgrades were funded from "efficiency savings" in other areas.

Fianna Fail Health spokes-man Billy Kelleher said Dr Reilly must urgently clarify the "disturbing revelations".

He said it "once again" raised the question of political interference in health decisions.

Sinn Fein's Caoimhghin O Caoloain said "this Fine Gael-Labour Government is copying Fianna Fail with cabinet cronyism ensuring the fast-tracking of favoured projects in the constituencies of ministers".

Dr Reilly's spokesman has defended the decision, and said both upgrades were needed. "The decision was made in July of 2011 and made at the board meeting of the HSE," he said.