BY Emma Connolly
WEST Cork is celebrating its first Fine Gael ministerial post since 1987, with the promotion of TD Jim Daly to Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People in the Department of Health.
Moving into what is the largest government department, Deputy Daly admits it will be an enormous challenge to affect change, but says rolling up his sleeves and improving the situation for home helps in his area – and the entire country – is among his priorities.
He also reassured the elderly people of West Cork they have nothing to fear from his appointment and that he was not coming after their allowances.
In his new remit he has no role or function in this area, he said, after earlier this year proposing that anyone with a free travel pass should pay a €6 cover charge.
He insisted his appointment – which earns him an annual salary hike of around €30,000 bringing his total to €124,439 – was based on ability and not his outspoken support of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
However, he did admit he would have been disappointed if he had not been included in the promotions announced on Tuesday, revealing that his move into the Dept of Health was a ‘surprise’ one.
He said his ambition in the new role was to do more with less; utilise existing services and avoid duplication and waste.
And, referring to the number of hospitals in his constituency, including Bantry, Clonakilty, Dunmanway and Schull, he said: ‘There’s lots of infrastructure belonging to the Dept of Health in my area and I intend to improve and enhance their services.’
He described mental health as the single biggest health challenge facing the country.
‘It’s all about awareness, not fearing it, being conscious of it, and embracing it,’ he said.
He singled out Skibbereen-based suicide based charity Lisheens House, set up by Bantry woman Noreen Murphy in 2014, as a ‘shining example’ of the work being done in this area.
‘I will bring this example to the Department and try and get it government funding and recognition,’ he said.
In the meantime, Minster Daly said he had been meeting officials in the Department and reading up on briefing material.
The last time Cork South West was represented in cabinet was in 2004 – the year Ahiohill man, the late Joe Walsh, then a Fianna Fail Minister for Agriculture, retired from the cabinet. But the last time that Cork South West Fine Gael was represented in government was when Jim O’Keeffe was Minister of State in Foreign Affairs, in 1987.
The post of Minister of State for Mental Health was previously held by Helen McEntee TD.