Tuesday 15 October 2019

Health Minister Simon Harris survives motion of no confidence

The minister survives by 58 votes to 53, with 37 abstentions, TDs Denis Naughten, Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry voted with the government.

Health Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

Health Minister Simon Harris has survived a motion of no confidence by 58 votes to 53.

There were 37 abstentions, while TDs Denis Naughten, Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry voted with the government.

Sinn Fein tabled the motion in response to the controversy surrounding the increasing costs of the National Children’s Hospital, the government estimates the new hospital will now cost 1.7 billion euro, however critics have speculated this price could rise.

The motion was backed by other parties, the Social Democrats, Labour and Green Party, and a range of independents, including the chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Dr Michael Harty.

Animated scenes took over the Dail on Wednesday evening as TDs debated Minister Harris’s successes and failures, instances of heckling and shouting forced the Ceann Comhairle to stop proceedings a number of times.

Sinn Fein TD Louise O’Reilly opened the debate by telling Mr Harris: “This motion was not rushed and is not personalised.

“The overspend represents the final straw, there are those in your own party and the media who say the motion is unfair, I wonder if they have been living under a rock?”

A majority of Sinn Fein TDs took aim at Fianna Fail’s confidence-and-supply deal with the government, which they say keeps a failing minister in a job, as the party abstained on the vote.

Louise O’Reilly labelled the opposition “opportunistic cowards” for their decision to abstain.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald added: “This isn’t about avoiding an election, the national interest is not served by keeping a minister who is clearly failing in a job, it’s not about stability, it’s about stagnation.

“It is legacy seen on waiting lists and families trying to make ends meet.

“The question to Micheal Martin is; ‘Do you have confidence in the minister?’ You do or you don’t?”

Likewise, Donnchadh O Laoghaire said: “The vast majority of those abstaining do not have confidence in the minister either.

“(Fianna Fail) Deputy (Stephen) Donnelly lists a myriad of failings practically daily, but Brexit does not mean ministers get a free pass in the meantime.

“It is the role of the opposition to hold the government to account, just as Fianna Fail used to do when they were in opposition.”

Likewise, a tweet by the minister himself sparked a slew of criticism from across the political spectrum.

“Bring it on” – tweeted by the minister early on Wednesday was compared to “bad lines in a Clint Eastwood movie” and “puffing your chest”.

On the side of Minister Harris, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was adamant that the Minister had succeeded in the role.

The Taoiseach said being Minister for Health is one of the toughest jobs in government, to much heckling.

“It helps you understand what a crisis is and what is not,” Leo Varadkar told the Dail.

“Whether it is being pressurised to act before you have full and accurate information, being expected to make decisions before you have time to consider the options, having to choose between two or three imperfect choices knowing full well no choice will satisfy your critics.

“I have confidence in the Minister for Health for many reasons, he’s a Minister who’s getting things done.

“We hear a lot about accountability in this house, at its most simple is taking responsibility for your actions,” he said.

“Accountability is not giving into the baying mob, a baying mob does not provide answers and it does not provide accountability.”

Mr Harris started his speech by listing his achievements as Health Minister including abortion reform and the HPV vaccine roll out.

“Sinn Fein walks away, you walked away from the health ministry in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Walking away is not in my DNA.”

Construction of the new National Children’s Hospital taking place in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

After being heckled from the Sinn Fein bench, Mr Harris replied: “I know you like gagging your political opponents, but we don’t do that in here.”

He also remarked: “To the Armalite and the ballot box, they have added a soap box and the no-confidence motion”.

Fianna Fail’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly added: “Fianna Fail does not have confidence in this government when it comes to healthcare.

“We will not be voting confidence in this minister, we will abstain because to do otherwise is to trigger a general election, which means no parliament for three to four months.”

Mr Donnelly added that Sinn Fein should be judged for their choice to call the motion.

“Fianna Fail’s choice is to provide the stability Ireland needs right now to protect the country from the threats of Brexit and present a credible alternative to the government.”

Similarly, Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty said: “It’s easy to call for heads but it takes courage to take on the challenge, that’s what distinguishes Minister Harris from the people who called this motion.”

This is the third motion of no confidence the Government has faced since Mr Varadkar became Taoiseach.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section