Monday 18 February 2019

'A new low in Irish politics' - Tánaiste slams decision by protesters to picket outside Simon Harris's home

  • Tánaiste Simon Coveney slated as 'a new low in Irish politics' the decision by protesters to picket outside the home of Health Minister Simon Harris
  • Simon Harris said protest outside his Wicklow home was 'very frightening' for his family
  • Housing Minister says he has 'full confidence' in Harris in midst of nurse strikes and hospital cost overrun
Simon Harris & Simon Coveney
Simon Harris & Simon Coveney

Ralph Riegel and Elaine Keogh

TANAISTE Simon Coveney slated as "a new low in Irish politics" the decision by protesters to picket outside the home of Health Minister Simon Harris with his wife and newborn child inside.

The Cork TD said he fully understood the feelings of Mr Harris given that he had himself been targeted at his home during the water charges protests.

Mr Harris said the protest outside his Wicklow home was "very frightening" for his family.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Harris said he did not want to comment too much about the protest. He was in the house with his wife, Caoimhe, and their three-week-old daughter, Saoirse, at the time.

"Obviously my number one priority is the safety and the well-being of my family. It was obviously a very frightening experience for them. Thankfully everyone is OK but a little bit shook," he said.

The protest was mounted by a group calling itself 'Fingal Battalion Direct Action'.

"This is the politics of intimidation and not democracy," Mr Coveney warned.

"No minister, particularly not a minister with a young family, should be targeted in that way.

"I am delighted that people from all political spectrums have been very critical as they should be."

Mr Coveney said that, unfortunately, such protests had happened before.

"In some ways I think the less said about this the better because it only encourages people.

"I don't think that it is acceptable that a young woman with a new born baby should be targeted which is what happened here.

"Hardly a brave thing to do - to be intimidating people outside their own homes without even knowing, by the way, that the minister was there.

"I think it is a low - it is not the first time it has happened," he continued.

"I have some experience of that with my own family as well. A number of years ago when it was water charges and household charges that people were protesting against."

Mr Coveney said Mr Harris had "the toughest job in the Government" with the health portfolio.

He acknowledged that people were upset by the spiralling costs of the National Children's Hospital and the ongoing nurses strike.

But he said there was an acceptable way to voice those concerns and not by targeting the families of hard-working public servants.

Mr Coveney added the Sinn Féin decision to table a motion of no confidence in Simon Harris was further proof of why no other major party wanted to be in future Coalition with Sinn Féin.

The Sinn Féin motion was tabled as leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party had deliberated very carefully over the performance of Mr Harris in recent months.

"(It has) no chance of passing - this is a stunt," Mr Coveney said.

"People sometimes ask the question: 'Why does nobody want to share Government with Sinn Fein?' This is a good example of why.

"We are just over 45 days to go to Brexit, we are trying to resolve with nursing unions the eal concerns that they have with the Government through the Labour Court and hopefully we will make progress on that."

"We have big things that we need to resolve as a country and what do Sinn Fein do? They try to pull the whole thing down with an election stunt which is what this is and which is not going to be successful."

The Cork TD said it was apparent Sinn Féin only tabled the motion when they realised it would not succeed and would not trigger a General Election.

"Ironically, if they thought that Fianna Fáil would support them they probably wouldn't go ahead with this," he said.

"I don't think anybody - even Sinn Fein - thinks we should have an election right now."

"But they are looking for attention and they are playing politics with important issues which, unfortunately, this is another example of Sinn Fein trying to play the man rather than the ball."

"I think most people see this as a stunt which is what it is."

Meanwhile, the Minister for Planning, Housing and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy has said he has “full confidence” in the Health Minister Simon Harris.

Asked for his response to Sinn Fein saying they had no confidence in Minister Simon Harris, a reference to the cost of the National Children's Hospital, Minister Murphy said, "I have full confidence in Simon Harris."

He said Sinn Fein did not understand the responsibility of government or opposition either, because he said; "This is not a time for trying to bring down the government when we are so close to Brexit and we have these important national issues that we need to deal with.

"What is happening with the Children’s Hospital is a very serious matter and the responsible thing to do is for us as a Government and Minister Harris to get the bottom of exactly what happened and bring that information to public light, to find cost savings where they can be found and to make sure we learn the lessons for future capital projects."

Responding to what happened outside the home of Minister Harris yesterday, he said, "I think it is unacceptable and it is undemocratic. Simon has a 3 week old baby daughter and his family home was under siege, that was not a protest and it should not be allowed to happen."

In relation to the nurses dispute the minister said, "There has been very intensive engagement over the course of the weekend and we are now awaiting a statement from the Labour court, so I will wait for that."

Minister Murphy was speaking in Castlebellingham, county Louth this morning where he launched the M1 Corridor Project, a business led initiative to bring international investment to the region.

Online Editors

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