Thursday 20 June 2019

Sinn Fein threatens no confidence motion in minister over rising hospital costs

Mary Lou McDonald has written to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin asking whether he has confidence in Simon Harris.

Health Minister Simon Harris is under pressure over the rising costs of the hospital (Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Health Minister Simon Harris is under pressure over the rising costs of the hospital (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

By Michelle Devane and Cate McCurry, Press Association

Sinn Fein has threatened to table a motion of no confidence in the health minister over the spiralling costs of the new National Children’s Hospital.

Mary Lou McDonald has written to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin challenging him to stop protecting Simon Harris by way of the confidence and supply agreement, and asking him if he will move or support a no confidence motion in the minister.

The Sinn Fein leader said: “Sinn Fein has no confidence in Minister Harris. His position is untenable in the face of mounting crises in our health services. He must be removed from office.”

The move comes after Leo Varadkar said he had “total confidence” in Mr Harris.

But Ms McDonald said the Taoiseach’s confidence that the health minister had acted correctly has “no credibility”.

What has been revealed amounts to failures of governance and accountability at all levels of government. Mary Lou McDonald

The opposition has called for Mr Harris to resign after Department of Health memos from August 2018 showed there was a 391 million euro overrun at the hospital.

Mr Harris did not tell his Cabinet colleagues about the overrun until November.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said on Thursday night it remains the position that Mr Harris did not know about the final figures until November 9, and he informed the Taoiseach and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on that date.

The estimated cost for the new hospital – which will be located on the campus of St James’s Hospital in Dublin – has risen from an original estimate of 650 million euro to more than 1.7 billion euro.

Speaking in Belfast on Friday afternoon, Mr Varadkar reiterated his “absolute confidence” in Mr Harris, saying he had “delivered” as a minister.

Mr Varadkar said: “All the controversy now is about who told what to whom when – rather than matters of substance or outcome, they are matters of process.

“If Simon Harris had told the government earlier about the emerging overrun I would have told him to do exactly what he did, which was get to the bottom of it, to minimise any overrun and find out what the reasons were and come back to government with options. That is exactly what he did.”

He added that it would not have impacted on the Budget Day package in any way.

What is happening is that the politics of press releases and the politics of the photo with the hi-vis jacket has taken over and there’s not much governance going on in its traditional way Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fail

In a statement earlier on Friday, Mr Varadkar said: “The impact on Budget 2019 is a red herring. It would have had no impact on the Budget Day package.

“Capital infrastructure spending profiles are now multi-annual and were announced in February 2018, not on Budget Day.”

He added that the increase in the capital budget for 2019 was 1.5 billion euro and 100 million euro would have to be taken from this for the NCH overrun.

“It’s manageable,” he said.

But Ms McDonald said: “The Taoiseach has described budgetary concerns arising from the overspend as ‘red herrings’. The truth is that this overspend will impact on vital community health projects and other infrastructure which will now be delayed or cancelled as a consequence.

“What has been revealed amounts to failures of governance and accountability at all levels of government.”

Speaking on the Sean O’Rourke show, Fianna Fail’s Thomas Byrne accused Mr Harris of misleading the Dail.

He said: “There’s a Government here who have lost two ministers, Frances Fitzgerald and Denis Naughten, and it’s an absolute shambles the way Government is happening.

“What is happening is that the politics of press releases and the politics of the photo with the hi-vis jacket has taken over and there’s not much governance going on in its traditional way.”

He added: “Only for Brexit there would be an election.”

An independent review by PwC is under way into the overspending. It is scheduled to be completed next month.

A new chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board was appointed this week after the previous chairman Tom Costello resigned over the rising costs.

Speaking in Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty called for Mr Harris to apologise.

He added: “This clearly paints a picture of a minister who is out of his depth as Minister for Health, who is lacking incompetence in relation to getting a grip on this crisis.

“We have called for the Taoiseach to remove him from office. There is a responsibility on the Opposition, but we are mindful of the numbers in Leinster House and that’s why Mary Lou McDonald has written to Micheal Martin asking him to stop protecting Minister Harris and indicate whether he still has confidence in the Minister for Health and whether he is willing to support or move in his own right a motion of no confidence.

“If he indicates, or indeed if a number of his parliamentary party indicate to us they would support a motion, we would table one as soon as next week.”

Press Association

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