Sunday 20 October 2019

Harris's anger as group followed wife and baby to find his home

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

A group who gathered outside the health minister's house last week followed his wife and three-week-old daughter to find their home, Simon Harris has claimed.

Mr Harris hit out at the group yesterday, saying his wife and child are not public figures and should not have been followed to identify his house.

He said it was an act of "intimidation and thuggery".

Speaking to Brendan O'Connor on RTE yesterday, Mr Harris said he respected people's right to protest but said being targeted at his home was inappropriate.

He said the incident was borne out of a public discourse that "dehumanises politicians", adding that the experience was upsetting and distressing. He said he was forced to call gardai, out of fear things would escalate.

"I was at home on the phone and my wife and three-week-old baby Saoirse were out for a little walk. We live in a little village in Delgany.

"My wife came back in through the door and said: 'Simon, something is about to take off outside our house'.

"Within seconds of my wife coming in the door, they had gathered outside our house."

Mr Harris said his wife was very worried and frightened when she returned from the walk. "The thing that keeps coming back to me, a week on from it now, is they didn't even know I was at home.

"They saw my wife pushing a three-week-old baby in to the house and within a couple of minutes max of her coming inside, they had effectively blocked our driveway.

"There is no doubt we were trapped in our house for the best part of two hours. I felt it was such a violation. Your first job at home is to protect and mind your family.

"It was a very sensitive time. We had been planning on heading out that afternoon to bring Saoirse to see her grandparents in Wexford and instead we spent the afternoon in our house with the blinds down, on the phone to the gardai."

The minister said he was left feeling guilty that his work had led to the group seeking out his family's home.He said it was inappropriate to refer to the group as protesters.

"This was a clear attempt to intimidate my family and my neighbours. I think it was intimidation and thuggery. I have a number of offices in my constituency. I have a departmental office, I work in the Dail, Government Buildings. There are many places to protest. Coming to your house, invading your personal [space], it felt like a violation. It was a violation.

"Imagine being in your house on a Sunday afternoon and feeling you can't leave. Imagine seeing your wife come in the door of your house with your newborn baby as upset as she was.

"It makes you feel angry."

He said he called the gardai out of concern that the incident would escalate very quickly. He felt he needed their expertise to manage the situation.

When asked if he felt he needs ongoing garda protection, Mr Harris said: "I don't know.

"Now I am certainly more cautious than I was.

"The fact this can happen on a lovely Sunday afternoon out of the blue does make you feel more vulnerable."

Mr Harris also expressed concern about further incidents occurring and about the targeting of other political figures. He claimed the people held signs supporting the nurses' strike and demonstrating against cervical cancer and the National Children's Hospital but officials aligned with those campaigns supported him.

"They [the group] launched a campaign on my driveway. They called on people to visit the homes of judges, ministers counsellors and TDs.

"Condemnation is not enough. We need to make sure we are not legitimising this, that we are not calling it a protest and that it is not acceptable."

Sunday Independent

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