Sunday 18 March 2018

Fine Gael rounds on Halligan as Kenny signals reshuffle

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Kildare think-in. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Kildare think-in. Photo: Damien Eagers

Niall O'Connor and John Downing

Fine Gael politicians have rounded on Junior Minister John Halligan, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny signalled the prospect of a ministerial reshuffle next year.

Mr Halligan's use of expletives to attack Fine Gael was widely condemned at the party's think-in in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

Ministers lined up to attack Mr Halligan, the Junior Minister with responsibility for skills, who has threatened to "bring down the Government" after an independent review recommended against the introduction of a second cath lab in his Waterford constituency.

The Taoiseach said he would seek to replace Mr Halligan if he resigns as minister.

"If it transpires that somebody decides to retire or resign from government, I will of course make a replacement."

In the context of questions about Mr Halligan, Mr Kenny also said he may reshuffle his ministers next year: "As I said, my mandate is one I am not going to walk away from. I will of course reflect on the make-up of government and the ministers of State next year. And that's part of my responsibility also."

Asked whether he would sack Mr Halligan, Mr Kenny said the removal of a minister is the prerogative of Cabinet.

But he said he does not "condone" remarks made by Mr Halligan in an interview with the 'Sunday Independent'.

Mr Kenny also backed the response by Health Minister Simon Harris, who is standing over the finding of the independent review that recommended against the introduction of a second cath lab in Waterford.

Read more: Kenny hints at plans to reshuffle government ministers next year

"I would expect that ministers and ministers of State would get on with their job, that they've been assigned statutory responsibility."

Asked whether he has confidence in Mr Halligan, Mr Kenny said he expects Mr Halligan to "do his job".

He added that Mr Halligan has 11 areas of responsibility given that his ministry spans two departments - and that this should be his focus.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan singled out Mr Halligan over remarks he made during an interview with the 'Sunday Independent'.

In the interview, Mr Halligan used foul language, accused three Fine Gael ministers of "dirty politics" before challenging the Coalition leadership to sack him.

Responding to the interview, Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent: "John Halligan's comments at the weekend were completely over the top."

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar rejected suggestions that he in some way misled Mr Halligan about plans for a second cath lab during government formation talks.

"I certainly always felt I was upfront, both in my public pronouncements and in what I would have said privately; and you can go back and check the record and I was very clear that decisions based on where special centres in healthcare are located should be made on clinical grounds," he told RTÉ's 'Drivetime'.

At yesterday's think-in, Fine Gael TDs expressed the wish that Mr Halligan would leave government and expressed concern that his remarks are distracting from the work of the Coalition.

Mr Halligan did not respond to calls last night.

The Independent Alliance is due to meet today, when Mr Halligan's future will undoubtedly be raised.

Mr Halligan has previously said that he will not accept anything less than the introduction of a second cath lab in Waterford - which was not recommended by the clinical review carried out by Belfast cardiologist Dr Niall Herity.

Irish Independent

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