Earlier today, Minister James Reilly broke down during an emotional interview on RTÉ Radio One’s The Ray D’Arcy Show. The former health minister welled up when talking about his son who has autism.
The interview began with Ray D’Arcy stating: “I want to make this a human interview, as opposed to a political one,” and he certainly succeeded. The Fine Gael TD spoke of his experiences working in the Department of Health. He admitted that some things went wrong for him and that regretted his handling of discretionary medical cards. “Some things went badly wrong… and if I were to think about one of them, the one that really upsets me the most was the medical cards,” he commented.
The Minister then went on to say, “I had no real choice because of the money situation… Having said that I never thought that’s where I’d end up, as a doctor and as a parent of a child with a disability, that I’d be taking cards off people with disabilities”. The father of five then went on to talk about his son Jamie, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. This is when he became tearful: “I hope I can hold it together for this”, he said.
At the time of his son’s diagnosis, he thought the disability was more severe than it turned out to be. His son went on to attend a normal school, received an honours degree from Trinity College, a masters from Queens University and is now studying to do a PHD in autism and stem cell research. “We thought his future was gone, but thankfully we were wrong. The one message I would give to parents is, let nobody set a limit of your child’s horizon,” Minister Reilly advised.
He then sympathised with less well-off parents, who have children with disabilities. “I know how desperate they feel that each passing day their child hasn’t got the services that they lost, when maybe they could be progressing… What we must do is support them to maximise and reach their full potential, whatever that may be. That’s in everybody’s interest. Their care requirement later in life will be much less, because of earlier investment. Investment in children is the biggest kind of return that you’ll ever get when you’re investing money,” he commented.
James Reilly, who was constantly criticised during his reign as Minister for Health, was allowed to speak without much interruption. However, a number of negative messages were read out at the end of the interview. One of these stated, “I’m finding it hard to listen to Minister O’Reilly’s tears when he took the medical card off my sick child dying with cancer and he stood up in the Dáil and denied he was taking cards us. He admits it now too late”.
James Reilly is now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs after the Taoiseach reshuffled the Cabinet last July. However, James Reilly expressed his relief that the issue of discretionary medical cards was rectified before he left his position as Minister of Health.
He then went on to discuss ministers’ limited power, saying that he thought he would have the opportunity to improve the health services, but that he was hindered by the country’s finances. He also commented that change is extremely slow to take place.
Describing his role in bringing in the new law for cigarettes to have plain packaging, he admitted that tobacco companies often tried to lobby him indirectly. He also received a number of letters from their solicitors threatening legal action if the law was brought in.
Minister James Reilly said he will be running in next year’s elections, once again in the Dublin North constituency.
Photo: Department of Health