The Minister for Health, Brian Cowen, has rejected claims by opposition parties that his department was incompetent in the way it allocated funds to the Tallaght Hospital. He also rejected opposition suggestions that Dr David McCutcheon, who resigned last night as the hospital's chief executive officer, had been made a 'fall guy'. Mr Cowen was asked for his comments when he attended the opening in Dublin of a recruitment drive for nurses.

Earlier today opposition politicians blamed Minister Cowen, for the resignation of Dr McCutcheon. The Labour health spokesperson, Roisin Shortall, described the resignation as a grave blow to the future of the hospital and said the Minister for Health must be held to account for Mr McCutcheon's decision. She claimed that the Minister had engaged in a campaign of spin and leak, which had inflicted lasting damage on the morale of the hospital staff.

Fine Gael's health spokesman, Alan Shatter, accused Mr Cowen of incompetence and said his department was dysfunctional. Mr Shatter, said it had been clear that over the last 6 months, Dr McCutcheon had been targeted by the Minister as the 'fall guy' to take the blame for the Department's failure to allocate sufficient funding for the hospital. And the Chairman of the Hospital's Medical Board, Dr David Fitzpatrick, said today that the Department of Health must shoulder some responsibility for the situation at Tallaght.

However, Mr Cowen has denied that the 500-bed hospital which opened last June was under-funded. He said it got favourable treatment from his department.

Dr McCutcheon has given no reason for his resignation after two and a half years in the job, but this move follows months of disagreement between Dr McCutcheon and the Department of Health over the hospital's budget. A statement issued by the hospital's board last night said that they had accepted his resignation with the 'utmost regret'. The board said they were deeply grateful to Dr McCutcheon and expressed sadness that he encountered adverse criticism during his tenure.

Tallaght Hospital was in financial trouble just one month after opening its doors. Last October, management consultants from Deloitte and Touch made a series of recommendations on how the complex should be run.

Mr Cowen said today that the consultants report had stressed that hospitals have to operate within their cash allocations. However Fine Gael's health spokesman said that the money allocated to Tallaght last year was not sufficient to finance the amalgamation of three different hospitals on a new site.