Monday 23 October 2017

Health row TD faces years in cold

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FORMER Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten is facing years in the political wilderness after being pushed out of the parliamentary party.

But his supporters maintain that he had "no option" but to vote with the opposition in favour of keeping the accident and emergency department in Roscommon Hospital -- which meant he automatically lost the party whip.

Mr Naughten lives just 500 yards from Roscommon Hospital and his voter support base was concentrated within a 20-mile radius of Roscommon town.

He had used a letter from Health Minister-to-be James Reilly to promise his constituents that services at the hospital would be retained -- and pledged he would resign if this general election promise was broken.

That meant he was under far more scrutiny than his constituency colleague Frank Feighan, who lives in Boyle at the other end of the county.

Mr Feighan had also used the James Reilly letter in his campaign -- but he admitted yesterday that Mr Naughten had "taken the lead" on the hospital issue.

"I was back and forward, and back and forward, but I made a decision which I believed was in the interests of Roscommon Hospital, in the interests of patient safety and also in the interests of the country. I stand by that," Mr Feighan said.

By voting with the Government, Mr Feighan remains in the Fine Gael parliamentary party. But with the Roscommon hospital A&E set to be closed next Monday, he is still under pressure from constituency rivals like Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

"It's one down and one to go," Mr Flanagan said. "Frank Feighan must resign the Fine Gael party whip and the Fine Gael councillors must resign."

Although there was speculation that all 10 Fine Gael councillors in Roscommon might resign, local Fine Gael councillor Laurence Fallon said this was unlikely. All are located in different parts of the county, so their positions on the issue are different.

"There is huge anger but no decision has been made," he said.

Mr Naughten's wife Mary is a nurse in Roscommon, where the local hospital has been a constant issue ever since Independent Tom Fox won a seat on behalf of the Roscommon hospital action committee in 1989.

Mr Naughten yesterday gave a hint of the pressure that his family has felt. He said his three-year-old daughter had asked him yesterday: "Daddy, is Casualty going to close?"

It is almost exactly a year since Mr Naughten suffered from making another big political decision -- opposing Enda Kenny in the failed leadership heave. He was sacked from the frontbench as a result but had been recently appointed to the €10,000-per-year post of Oireachtas Health Committee chairman. He will lose that now -- as well as the opportunity to vote in the Fine Gael presidential nomination contest tomorrow. But according to his office, there were "non-stop" calls of support yesterday for his stance -- so he will be hoping voters remember it at the next general election.

His experience of being told to vacate his office yesterday by Fine Gael reminded TDs in Leinster House of what had happened to Labour TD Tommy Broughan in 1994 for voting against the Government. He turned up the next day to find his belongings outside his office.

Mr Naughten will also be hoping to return to his party. But it is likely to take some time -- because Fine Gael will want to show other backbenchers that there is a penalty for defying the party whip.

Irish Independent

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