Friday 30 September 2016

After four crises in four months, it is Halligan's time to bow out

Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30

John Halligan hit four speed bumps over four months in office as a Junior Minister. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
John Halligan hit four speed bumps over four months in office as a Junior Minister. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

They may not be singing the aul shut-eye number Goodbye Johnny Dear because all sides seem capable of coping with the sorrow of parting.

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John Halligan hit four speed bumps over four months in office as a Junior Minister. He is a courteous, decent and talented man, with a flair for politics and an ability to get votes.

But he is not now, nor has he ever been, culturally or politically ready for the tough place that is government.

The Waterford Independent TD's departure from this Partnership Government, has from very early on looked like being simply a matter of time. "Shut the door on the way out," was a pretty typical reaction from within Fine Gael through much of yesterday at Leinster House.

The previous day's "will he stay or will he go?" drama had been played and replayed. There was a feeling he should revert to what he does best: oppose, protest and campaign. It too is important work.

His Independent colleagues were publicly very supportive. But in the background there were signs that they would manage through this loss.

A number of other Independents were doing the political equivalent of being warmed up on the sidelines. The Government may not, as Mr Halligan suggested at one stage, collapse - for now at least.

Even through the marathon days of coalition negotiations last March and April, there were doubts on all sides about whether Mr Halligan could or even should join this hybrid minority coalition.

A fortnight after this Coalition took office in May, Mr Halligan had his first crisis. He said he may have to vote against the Government and with Sinn Féin in a Dáil motion on water charges.

Then he changed his mind as he found that motion clashed with the Programme for Government and arrangements between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the issue.

Mr Halligan supported a private member's motion on abortion, in spite of advice from the Attorney General. In a stand-off, he and his colleagues obliged the Coalition not to take any position on the issue.

Just last week, when the Apple €13bn back tax row erupted, he said he wanted to see the money clawed back and put into health, education and other services. He also told RTÉ radio he would prefer the Dáil, and not the Government, to decide on an appeal in the Apple case. And then he backed the Government appeal decision a day later.

But the sensitive issue of cardiac services at Waterford University Hospital presented the fourth, and by now the apparently impassable, obstacle.

Mr Halligan justified continuing in government for the larger prize of a second cardiac unit at Waterford University Hospital. This had been guaranteed to him by Fine Gael - provided an independent medical review recommended it. That did not happen.

Irish Independent

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