Tuesday 27 June 2017

Rebel FG TD votes to save A&E services at hospital

Naughten expected to lose party whip after defying orders

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

A GOVERNMENT TD last night defied coalition orders and voted for a Dail motion calling for Accident and Emergency facilities in Roscommon Hospital to remain open.

Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughten went against the Fine Gael whip and voted with a Sinn Fein motion which called for the retention of A&E facilities at the hospital.

The A&E department in Roscommon will close on Monday and Mr Naughten and another FG constituency TD, Frank Feighan, came under huge pressure in recent days to support the Sinn Fein motion.

Mr Feighan supported the Government's position and the Coalition won the vote comfortably.

Earlier, Mr Feighan told how a man threatened to put a bullet in his head over the controversy.

"I have received numerous threats. I received a death threat last night," he said on Shannonside FM yesterday.

"I am dealing with the situation. I will not be bullied. A man who rang me said that he would put a bullet in my head," he claimed.

Mr Naughten is chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee and it is now thought likely that he will lose his party whip and become an Independent TD.

It is also likely he will be stripped of the €10,000-a-year committee chairmanship -- a position he took up only last month.

His surprise move came at the last minute and despite a temporary reprieve for Roscommon Hospital.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Naughten said it was an "extremely difficult decision".

"My problem was I had given my word based on a commitment I had been given by the party," he said.

Junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall announced in the Dail that there would be 24-hour services from junior doctors for a month in Roscommon Hospital from next Monday. The junior doctors will be supervised by a consultant, and this will be an urgent care centre, rather than an A&E.

However, after the four-week period, the hospital will revert to the cover of junior doctors from 8am to 8pm, with GPs taking over at night, which was promised by Health Minister James Reilly last week.

Mr Naughten has come under particular pressure on the issue -- and that continued in last night's highly bitter Dail debate.

Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and the Independents called on Fine Gael to honour pre-election promises and keep A&Es opened in hospitals such as Roscommon, Navan, Letterkenny, Portlaoise, Loughlinstown, Portiuncula, Limerick, Clonmel, Mallow and Bantry.

And, as protesters from Roscommon gathered outside the Dail as the vote was taken, the two Fine Gael TDs split on the issue. In charged Dail exchanges, their constituency colleague in Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, said he had a clear conscience after the general election -- but that could not be said of Mr Feighan and Mr Naughten.

He said Fine Gael was supposed to be a Christian democratic party, and added the ninth commandment says: "Thou shalt not lie."

Apologised

He said that, on that basis, Fine Gael could not be considered Christian or democratic if they voted to close the A&E unit.

He also said Mr Feighan and Mr Naughten would be known as "traitors until kingdom come" if they voted against the Sinn Fein proposal.

Mr Feighan apologised that he could not live up to promises made before the election and accused Mr Flanagan of being a "political thug" and a "political opportunist" who was only interested in re-election.

The vote, which the Government won 96-47, came after Dr Reilly appealed to Mr Feighan and Mr Naughten to "hold firm".

"They'll be the better for this, not worse off, and, come a year's time, I'll have this conversation again; let Sinn Fein put down that motion in a year's time and let's see where the truth lies."

Mr Reilly said the two TDs were at "the fore" in trying to find a safe solution to Roscommon Hospital.

Irish Independent

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