Tuesday 26 March 2019

Harris survives vote after Dáil erupts in mudslinging contest

Sinn Féin no-confidence motion fails as Fianna Fáil members abstain

Health Minister Simon Harris (Niall Carson/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris (Niall Carson/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Amid fiery rows over treason, love-bombing, political arse-covering and baying mobs, Health Minister Simon Harris survived a no-confidence motion by five votes.

For more than two hours, the Dáil played host to mudslinging from all sides that contained very little debate about how to resolve the crises facing the health service.

Sinn Féin placed the motion in Mr Harris, claiming he was "out of his depth" in the Department of Health.

But in truth, Mary Lou McDonald's main target was the Fianna Fáil party, which abstained under the Confidence and Supply Arrangement.

Her objective of splitting Micheál Martin's party actually served to unite it in return verbal attacks over Sinn Féin's political record.

There was one exception when Carlow/Kilkenny TD John McGuinness went rogue to question why his party wasn't backing the motion.

Although he ultimately abstained, Mr McGuinness told Fine Gael: "I actually don't know any more why we support you.

"I don't know why we sit on our hands."

A string of ministers spoke in defence of Mr Harris, who has been embroiled in controversy over the escalating costs of the National Children's Hospital.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of being "trigger-happy" with such motions and insisted he did not want his minister to give in to the "baying mob".

He argued that if it had any experience in government it would not be so quick to judge.

Mr Varadkar said being Health Minister "is one of the tough jobs in Government" and "one of the most important jobs in the country".

He praised Mr Harris's efforts to make inroads into the various crises in health, including the trolley crisis and overspend at the National Children's Hospital.

"I know major errors were made in calculating the true cost [of the hospital]. As head of Government, I accept responsibility for that," the Taoiseach said.

In his own contribution, Mr Harris launched a scathing attack on Sinn Féin for engaging the "politics of division".

"Sinn Féin doesn't change. To the ballot box and the armalite, they have added the soap box and the no-confidence motion.

"Their stock in trade is still competitive anger and cultivated division.

"Devoid of ideas, their contribution to this chamber can only be measured in decibels."

Ms McDonald denied her motive in calling a vote was to force a general election.

The Dublin TD said the Confidence and Supply deal "covers the blushes of the Fianna Fáil leader" who is in a coalition with Fine Gael "in all but name".

"Today Supply and Confidence is exposed.

"It's not about stability, it's about stagnation," she said.

Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly was highly critical of the Government's record on health - but said an election before Brexit would be "madness".

He said Sinn Féin doesn't take seats in Westminster, brought down the Northern Ireland Executive, and was seeking to "complete the hat-trick" by collapsing the Dáil.

Labour's Alan Kelly referred to sniping between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil in their contributions and said it was "the most bizarre no-confidence vote ever" where the minister was not the focus.

Irish Independent

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