Tuesday 26 March 2019

Health Minister Simon Harris survives Sinn Fein no confidence vote

Minister Simon Harris
Minister Simon Harris

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

HEALTH Simon Harris has survived a motion of no confidence by five votes.

After a sometimes fiery debate, an attempt by Sinn Féin to oust him from office was defeated by 58 votes to 53.

Fianna Fáil abstained under the confidence and supply arrangement.

Earlier, In a robust defence of his minister’s record, Leo Varadkar said Sinn Féin deputies are “trigger happy” with their motions of no confidence.

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

Mr Varadkar said being Minsiter for Health “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.

“Minister Harris has also covered difficult and emotive issues. He invests enormous times and energy.

“I know major errors were made in calculating the true cost [of the hospital]. As head of government I accept responsibly for that,” the Taoiseach said.

But he added: “Accountability at its most simple is about taking responsibility for your actions.”

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,” Mr Harris said.

He promised to get to the bottom of the cost increases.

“Quitting is not in my DNA. Political accountability is about standing by your decisions, and working day and night to deliver them,” he said.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil that Sinn Féin are democratically elected to three parliaments but refuse to take their seats in one, collapsed another and are now trying to pull down the Dáil.

“There is good reason why nobody wants to work with in government,” he said.

Mr Coveney also gave a personal  defence of his colleague, saying he is someone who fights for patients and tries to bring people together.”

Prosing the motion of no confidence,  Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said it was “not rush, not vindictive or personalised”.

And she rejected criticism of the motion by questioning whether those against it “have been living under a rock for the past three years”.

She questioned how any could stand over the various problems in the health system, including the €450m cost overrun at the Children’s Hospital.

Ms O’Reilly also criticised Mr Harris for claiming credit for the passing of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, saying it was “more than a little bit sad” that he would try to do so.

In her contribution, Mary Lou McDonald took aim at Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s commitment to confidence and supply.

She accused the largest opposition party of “betraying the electorate” and protecting Fine Gael.

“It is never in the national interest to keep a failing minister in place. The price is too high. Not only in the Children’s Hospital but in hospitals and doctors surgeries right across the State.

“There is no threat of an election and yet the minister remains,” Ms McDonald said.

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 health spokesman Stephen Donnelly was highly critical of the government's record on health citing waiting lists, the strike by nurses and the cost of the Children's Hospital.

He said his party won't be voting confidence in Mr Harris but will abtain because "to do otherwise is to trigger a general election".

He said the Dáil would be gone for three to four months and any chance of getting the NCH costs down would be lost.

He also said Brexit threatens 45,000 jobs and puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

Mr Donnelly said an election in the closing days of Brexit would be "madness".

He said Sinn Féin don't take seats in Westminister, blamed them for bringing down the Northern Ireland Executive, and accused them of seeking to "complete the hat-trick" by collapsing the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil backbencher John McGuinness told the debate that he doesn’t know why his party is not backing the motion.

“I actually don’t know any more why we support you. I don’t know what we sit on our hands.

“A majority in this House has had enough of your government and you should go,” he said.

Mr McGuinness, going against the Fianna Fáil line, called on Leo Varadkar to being “an orderly wind down of your government”.

“I would be supporting a vote of no confidence in the Government itself.”

He said the debate was focused on the wrong “national sabotage”. He said the Government was performing a “sabotage of people’s rights” such as having a home.

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 and the government were not the focus of the debate.

He said Labour is supporting the no confidence motion but that it wasn't personal as that he believed Mr Harris is "honourable" and "fundamenally decent".

Mr Kelly said Labour "purely don't have confidence in the government."

Mr Kelly did criticise the government over its handling of the CervicalCheck controversy and claiming it has not embraced the cross-party Sláintecare plan for health.

He also said he's sick of the Department of Health being referred to as "Angola" and said "bad politics across generations" has destroyed the Department where "30-years of arse-covering as not served the people well".

Mr Kelly concluded his contribution saying he believes Mr Harris is a "decent person in a bad government in a dysfyunctional Dáil".

Online Editors

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