James Reilly (Irish politician)

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James Reilly
James Reilly April 2014.jpg
James Reilly, April 2014
In office
27 May 2016 – 27 March 2020
ConstituencyNominated by the Taoiseach
Deputy Leader of the Fine Gael Party
In office
1 July 2010 – 16 May 2017
LeaderEnda Kenny
Preceded byRichard Bruton
Succeeded bySimon Coveney
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
In office
11 July 2014 – 6 May 2016
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byCharles Flanagan
Succeeded byKatherine Zappone
Minister for Health
In office
9 March 2011 – 11 July 2014
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byMary Coughlan
Succeeded byLeo Varadkar
Teachta Dála
In office
May 2007 – February 2016
ConstituencyDublin North
Personal details
Born (1955-08-16) 16 August 1955 (age 65)
Lusk, Dublin, Ireland
Political partyFine Gael
Spouse(s)Dorothy Reilly
Alma materRoyal College of Surgeons

James Reilly (born 16 August 1955) is an Irish former Fine Gael politician, businessman and medical doctor.[1] Between the February 2016 general election and the 6 May 2016 formation of a new government, he was the Acting Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, having held that ministry since July 2014 in the previous government, and was also deputy leader of Fine Gael from 2010 to 2017.[2] He was the Minister for Health from March 2011 to July 2014. Reilly was a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North constituency since the 2007 general election until he lost his seat in the 2016 general election.[3] Reilly was a member of Seanad Éireann from May 2016 to March 2020, after being nominated by then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.[4] Reilly subsequently announced his retirement from politics after he lost his bid for election for his old seat at the 2020 general election.

Personal life[edit]

Reilly graduated with a medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1979 and is a qualified General Practitioner.[5] Reilly was president of the Irish Medical Organisation prior to his election. He was appointed as party spokesperson on Health in 2007 and promoted to Deputy Leader in a reshuffle on 1 July 2010.[6]

He has worked as a GP in the North County Dublin area for the past 25 years, with surgeries formerly in Lusk and Donabate. Reilly currently has a surgery in Lusk.

Political career[edit]

Minister for Health: 2011–2014[edit]

For his first official trip as Health Minister, Reilly embarked on an expedition to China.[7] His second official trip was for a meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York City from 17–20 September 2011.[7]

He conceded for the first time on 17 January 2012 that budget cuts he was implementing would affect frontline health services.[8]

His predecessor, Mary Coughlan, referred to the number of patients on trolleys as a "national emergency".[9] Shortly before becoming Minister for Health the number of patients on trolleys reached a new record high of 569. On taking office, James Reilly vowed that "never again" would we see 569 patients on trolleys.[10] The number of patients waiting on trolleys dipped for a time following his appointment as Minister for Health, but grew again before he left office.[11]

Reilly instructed his Department to start collating an outpatient waiting list for the first time, which, when it was first published in March 2013 showed over 100,000 patients waiting over a year. Thousands of them were waiting over four years. By December 2013, this waiting list had been reduced by 95 percent. The number of patients waiting over 8 months for an inpatient or daycase procedure has now been reduced by 99%.[12][13][14][15]

Minister Reilly with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March 2013

In July 2012, Reilly was named on a debt defaulters' list as owing a debt of €1.9 million together with four others on foot of a judgment which had been registered in the High Court.[16][17][18] The dispute was eventually settled with the nursing home at the centre of the dispute sold.[19]

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin tabled a motion of no confidence in Reilly on 3 September 2012 after more cuts in the health service.[20] He says the search for savings would focus on tackling "inefficiencies and waste", such as excessive sick leave and overtime.[21] The Labour junior minister Róisín Shortall addressed the Dáil during this motion and did not indicate her support for him or mention his name once, though she did not vote against the motion.[22] Reilly won the vote of no confidence by 99 to 49.[23] On 26 September 2012, Shortall resigned as Minister of State for Primary Care and her party whip, citing lack of support and the lack of an explanation from Reilly as to what criteria were used to select an extra 15 sites for primary care centres, including the placement of two such centres in Reilly's own constituency.[24]

Just two weeks after the motion of no confidence, Reilly unilaterally cut Irish consultants salary.[25] Compared to salaries from 2008, the cut represents over a 40% drop,[26] the largest cut in the public sector. Controversially, this salary cut applied to not only new consultant contracts but also to existing consultants who moved to take up a similar position in a different hospital. Since this pay cut there has been difficulty in recruiting consultants with several posts receiving no applicants.[27] While under questions from the Oireachtas, Minister Reilly downplayed the recruitment problems and stated "there is not the great crisis chaos that the Irish Hospital Consultants Association would like to paint".[28] Two days following this the Minister stated "it was never my intention that somebody who has spent 10 years working as a cardiologist...would be expected to return here and commence work at the starting point on the salary scale, that, clearly, does not make sense".[29]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs: 2014–2016[edit]

Reilly was moved to the position of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in a cabinet reshuffle in July 2014.[30] He retained responsibility for Public Health and anti-smoking policy.

In this role he faced controversy over the Catholic church's constitutional right to give preference in admission at church controlled schools to baptized Catholic children. Virtually all of Ireland's state-funded primary schools (97%) are under church control. Irish law allows schools under church control to consider religion the main factor in admissions. Oversubscribed schools often choose to admit Catholics over non-Catholics, a situation that has created difficulty for non-Catholic families. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva asked Reilly to explain the continuation of preferential access to state-funded schools on the basis of religion. He said that the laws probably needed to change, but noted it may take a referendum because the Irish constitution gives protections to religious institutions. The issue is most problematic in the Dublin area. A petition initiated by a Dublin attorney, Paddy Monahan, received almost 20,000 signatures in favor of overturning the preference given to Catholic children. An advocacy group, Education Equality, planned a legal challenge.[31]

Reilly lost his seat at the 2016 general election.[3] He retained his position as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs until talks on government formation had concluded and his successor, Katherine Zappone, was appointed.[32] He was the Fine Gael Seanad spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the 25th Seanad.


At a meeting of Fine Gael ministers in November 2015, James Reilly reportedly 'faced down' then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny, demanding a referendum on Ireland's abortion laws. He reportedly told the Taoiseach repeatedly: "I said it, I believe it and I'll say it again." [33] He took a swipe again at the Taoiseach when he told a group of young voters to "never stand back because others try to shut you down".

Kenny's Fine Gael-led minority government took office after the 2016 election with a programme which promised a randomly selected Citizens' Assembly to report on possible changes to the Eighth Amendment, which would be considered by an Oireachtas committee, to whose report the government would respond officially in debates in both houses of the Oireachtas. Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as Taoiseach on 14 June 2017 and promised to hold a referendum on abortion in 2018.[34]


Reilly has called the tobacco industryevil”,[35] claimed that they “target our children”[36] and declared “war” on them.[37] Both his father and brother died from smoking related illnesses.[38] He received cabinet approval to aim to make Ireland a tobacco free country – defined as a smoking rate below 5% - by 2025.[39] Ireland became the second country in the world to commit to introducing plain tobacco packaging.[40] He has taken a defiant attitude to threats of legal action from the tobacco industry.[41] During the Irish Presidency of the European Union, Reilly prioritised the Tobacco Products Directive. He secured the agreement of the European Council within just six months. Health Commissioner Tonio Borg praised his ability in securing this agreement.[42][43] When the Tobacco Directive's future became doubtful because of tobacco industry lobbying in the European Parliament, Reilly arranged for letters supporting the directive to be sent to MEPs from himself, the Taoiseach, 16 European Health ministers and the World Health Organisation.[44][45][46] In an unusual move in Irish politics, Reilly accepted a Bill proposed by independent Senators which aims to ban smoking in cars where children are present.[47]


He contested the Dublin Fingal by-election in 2019 and again for Fine Gael in the 2020 general election and lost both times. Shortly after his third defeat, Reilly announced his retirement from politics. [48]


  1. ^ "James Reilly". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 14 April 2009.
  2. ^ "Kenny Announces New Fine Gael Front Bench". Fine Gael. 1 July 2010. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b "James Reilly". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 14 April 2009.
  4. ^ Sarah Bardon (27 May 2016). "FF leader selects three of Taoiseach's 11 Seanad appointees". Irish Times.
  5. ^ "Medical Council - Detailed Doctor Register". medicalcouncil.ie.
  6. ^ "Bruton & Noonan return to Fine Gael frontbench". RTÉ News. 1 July 2010. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Reilly hotel costs €2,500 on UN junket". Irish Independent. 12 November 2011. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013.
  8. ^ "Reilly admits cuts will hit frontline services". RTÉ News. 17 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Number of people on trolleys down". Independent.ie.
  10. ^ "Doctors welcome Reilly's trolley pledge". irishhealth.com.
  11. ^ Clarke, Vivienne (4 January 2017). "Number of patients on trolleys to stay near record level". Irish Times. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Dmac Media. "Sligo Today News for Sligo County - Sligo Regional Hospital reduction in waiting lists welcomed". sligotoday.ie.
  14. ^ "Reduction in waiting lists at Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore". offalyexpress.ie.
  15. ^ "Number waiting more than a year for hospital consultant treatment falls by 95%". The Irish Times. 29 January 2014.
  16. ^ "Reilly 'to be named on debt defaulters' list'". Irish Examiner. 10 July 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  17. ^ "Health Minister James Reilly named on Stubbs' list over €1.9m debt". RTÉ News. 10 July 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  18. ^ "Video: Health Minister James Reilly's statement to the Dáil". The Journal. 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  19. ^ "Reilly 'takes hit' with investors over nursing home sale". Independent.ie.
  20. ^ "Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin table no-confidence motion in Health Minister James Reilly". RTÉ News. 3 September 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  21. ^ O'Brien, Paul (24 August 2012). "Reilly pleads with Fine Gael TDs to support €700m cuts in healthcare". The Irish Examiner. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  22. ^ "Shortall delivers speech on motion of confidence". Irish Examiner. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  23. ^ "Minister Reilly wins confidence motion". RTÉ News. 20 September 2012.
  24. ^ "Roisin Shortall resigns as junior health minister". RTÉ News. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  25. ^ Christine Bohan. "James Reilly: New consultants will have to face a hefty pay cut". TheJournal.ie.
  26. ^ "Salary cuts for new entrant consultants must be reversed". Irish Medical Times.
  27. ^ Nicky Ryan. "The HSE is in danger of 'regressing to a previous era'". TheJournal.ie.
  28. ^ "Joint Committee on Health and Children - 16/Jan/2014 Update on Health Issues: Minister for Health and HSE (Continued)". oireachtas.ie.
  29. ^ "Just 31 new consultants on new entry grade". Irish Medical Times.
  30. ^ "Taoiseach says new Cabinet to focus on jobs, economy". RT News. 12 July 2014.
  31. ^ Catholic Church’s Hold on Schools at Issue in Changing Ireland The New York Times, January 21, 2016
  32. ^ McGrath, Meadhbh (6 May 2016). "Revealed: The salaries TDs pocketed over 10 weeks of government talks". Irish Independent.
  33. ^ Niall O'Connor. "James Reilly faces down Taoiseach three times over abortion". Independent.ie.
  34. ^ "Ireland's new leader announces abortion referendum despite Pope visit". 15 June 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  35. ^ "We're not 'evil', tobacco companies tell Reilly". Independent.ie.
  36. ^ "Reilly accuses tobacco firms of targeting young people". irishexaminer.com.
  37. ^ "Minister: We'll win war on tobacco". Independent.ie.
  38. ^ http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/james-reilly-reveals-father-and-brother-died-from-smoking-illness-29303320.html
  39. ^ "Reilly plan aims to make country tobacco-free by 2025". Independent.ie. Archived from the original on 6 February 2014.
  40. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  41. ^ "Reilly tells Big Tobacco: come ahead and sue us". Independent.ie. Archived from the original on 6 February 2014.
  42. ^ "EU agrees ban on menthol cigarettes". RTÉ.ie. 21 June 2013.
  43. ^ "Irish EU Presidency, News items : 20130621 Post EPSCO Health". eu2013.ie.
  44. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  45. ^ "Enda's letter saves EU law from going up in smoke". Independent.ie.
  46. ^ Paul Hosford. "Taoiseach calls for no change to tobacco health warnings". TheJournal.ie.
  47. ^ Aoife Barry. "Government to press ahead with ban on smoking in cars". TheJournal.ie.
  48. ^ Nicky Ryan. "Former health minister James Reilly is retiring from politics". TheJournal.ie.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Seán Ryan
(Labour Party)
Fine Gael Teachta Dála for Dublin North
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
Mary Coughlan
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Leo Varadkar
Preceded by
Charles Flanagan
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Succeeded by
Katherine Zappone
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Bruton
Deputy Leader of Fine Gael
Succeeded by
Simon Coveney