Sunday 18 February 2018

I will rain hell on this Government

EXCLUSIVE: Halligan interview throws Government into crisis as FG says comments 'unacceptable'

Niamh Horan and John Halligan
Niamh Horan and John Halligan

Niamh Horan and Philip Ryan

The resignation of Minister of State John Halligan appeared inevitable last night after he rounded on Fine Gael in an explosive interview with the Sunday Independent.

In a dramatic intervention that will throw the Government into its biggest crisis since it was formed four months ago, Mr Halligan has accused Fine Gael of a "stitch-up" and three Fine Gael ministers of "dirty politics".

The Training and Skills Minister challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny to sack him, but also threatened to "walk away" if a second catheterisation laboratory was not provided at University Hospital Waterford. A 'cath lab' is a specialist facility where heart problems can be diagnosed.

Mr Halligan warned: "I will bring all hell down on top of them if they don't deliver this."

The Independent Alliance TD told RTÉ News on Sunday morning that he does not want to resign from the coalition Government but warned that promises made to him over University Hospital Waterford have to be delivered.

"I really do not want to leave Government" but added "I will step down if I have to."

"I regret that it has come to this", he said, adding that he could not "sully" his principles.

This weekend, there had been some hope in Government circles that a deal could be reached to avoid Mr Halligan's resignation, but that hope receded last night after Mr Halligan's interview.

Read more: Halligan isolated in quest for new review at Waterford hospital

In hard-hitting comments that will further strain already difficult relations with Fine Gael, the junior minister said: "I am angry with Fine Gael in total. I am really angry. I am angry with the people I negotiated with - Michael Noonan, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar."

But he also said: "I am steadfast in my refusal to be intimidated by Fine Gael. I will not back down."

He added: "I don't want to bring down the Government. But if it takes that, I will have to."

The junior minister said: "I am not going to be f***ed over by anybody. I don't care if it is the man on the street or some guy threatening me. And you can print that.

"Somebody said to me during the week: 'Sometimes you have got to bite down and suck up.'

Read more: Taoiseach urges John Halligan and other ministers to start 'applying themselves'

"Well, John Halligan does not bite down and suck up for anybody. And you can print that. And I don't give a damn. I'll face down anybody."

Mr Halligan turned on Finance Minister Mr Noonan, Housing Minister Mr Coveney, and also Health Minister Simon Harris with whom he is still in negotiations.

He said his Independent Alliance colleague Shane Ross had witnessed the agreement with Mr Noonan to provide a second cath lab in Waterford.

He added that the Transport Minister "will back" his version of events. If Mr Noonan denied this, he said, then "he is telling lies".

Mr Halligan also rounded on Independent Alliance colleague Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, accusing him of being an "idiot" for suggesting that he should accept a watered-down deal on offer for Waterford hospital.

Read more: Waterford could lose key cardiac service altogether

There were indications this weekend that Mr Harris might offer Mr Halligan a second review of the Waterford hospital decision next year. But it will be difficult for Fine Gael to move on after the Independent Alliance minister's interview with the Sunday Independent this weekend.

In that interview, Mr Halligan said: "What they should do now, if they believe I am destabilising the Government, is put me out. F*** 'em. Put me out. I don't care. If that's what they want to do, put me out. But I know what I am doing is right and honourable."

If Mr Halligan resigns, the Government will be dependent on the support of former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry to survive.

The arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is based on the Fine Gael-led minority Government having the support of 58 Dail members. Mr Lowry also supports the Government, bringing its current maximum number of votes to 59.

Read more: Halligan won't budge despite review denying need for new lab

Mr Halligan also made a serious charge of "interference" from other hospitals to deny the second laboratory at Waterford.

"I haven't said this to anyone else, but you can print it: I feel there was interference. And that's what it comes down to. It comes down to interference."

Last night, there was a clear view in Fine Gael that the party had come to the end of the road with Mr Halligan.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance Eoghan Murphy told the Sunday Independent that Mr Halligan's recent comments relating to Mr Noonan were "unacceptable". He said: "Michael Noonan is in Europe fighting to protect Ireland's reputation and to have any member of our own Government attack his credibility at this time is unacceptable."

In his Sunday Independent interview, Mr Halligan also describes Mr Noonan as a good man, but says the Finance Minister "has to live with his own conscience" if he denies there was an agreement to provide a second cath lab in Waterford. He also says he will be "bitterly disappointed" with Simon Coveney "as a human being" if he continues to deny the deal.

Read more: Halligan continues to dither: Noonan promised me a second cath lab 

In relation to Mr Harris, he says: "I am bitterly disappointed with Simon."

It also emerged last night that Mr Halligan was told by Mr Harris in August that a review of the Waterford cath lab plan did not recommend a second laboratory for the hospital. This has been confirmed by the Independent minister.

However, in his Sunday Independent interview, Mr Halligan claims the HSE pre-warned, in writing, the independent expert who carried out the review that "the service would be a waste of very limited resources".

He said: "It has to be a stitch-up… I feel set up because they broke their promise that they had no intention of delivering it in the first place."

In relation to Mr Harris's current insistence that the second cath lab could not be provided in the face of an independent review, Mr Halligan said: "If Harris still stands his ground on it, well then it's giddy-up time with me. And that's it."

Read the full interview in today's Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent

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