Tuesday 26 March 2019

'Violation, intimidation and thuggery' - Simon Harris reveals how protesters followed his wife and baby home

Minister Simon Harris
Minister Simon Harris

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

Simon Harris has hit out at a group that gathered outside his home last Sunday afternoon, saying that they were not protesting, they were intimidating his family.

The Minister for Health said that the group appeared to have followed his wife and three-week-old baby Saoirse to his home in Delgany as they were out for a walk.

The protest at the minister's Co Wicklow house by the group styling themselves 'Fingal Battalion Direct Action Group' has sparked condemnation from across the political spectrum.

Speaking to Brendan O'Connor on RTE Radio 1's Marian Finucane show, the Fine Gael politician said that he was inside the family home on the phone when the group appeared outside immediately after his wife and daughter returned from their walk.

"I think my wife and baby had been used to identify where my house was. It’s clear to me that people had a rough idea where we lived but didn’t know specifically which house we lived in and they saw my wife walking home," he said.

"Within seconds of my wife coming in the door they had gathered outside my house. The thing that keeps coming back to me is that they didn’t know I was in the house so all they saw was my wife and three-week-old baby.”

Harris, who is currently battling criticism for the national children’s hospital going over budget to an estimated €1.43bn, and the protests of nurses within the INMO, said that he was trapped inside his home by the group.

Read more: Protesters targeting Leo Varadkar’s home branded 'unfair' by minister

Gardaí were called to the Harris family home after the protesters stationed themselves there around 3pm on Sunday.

TDs from all political quarters have rallied against the gathering, condemning the actions as "utterly unacceptable."

The Health Minster questioned why the people had gathered at his home rather than one of his offices and criticised the targeting of his family.

"There’s no doubt we were trapped in our house for the best part of two hours," he said.

"The first job in your home is to protect and mind your baby. We were planning on heading out that afternoon to bring Saoirse to her grandparents in Wexford.

"I first of all felt guilty, which is a horrible thing to feel, that my job brought these people to our home. This was not a protest, this was a clear attempt to intimidate me and my neighbours. I think it was intimidation and thuggery. It felt like a violation, it was a violation.

"Imagine being in your house on a Sunday afternoon and feeling that you can’t leave. My wife is not a public figure. My three week old baby is not a public figure."

Meanwhile Minister Harris said that he is happy for the development of the new National Children’s Hospital to go ahead as planned, and that retendering the contract is not an option.

On Friday, the construction company approved to build the new hospital, BAM, said that they would be happy to walk away from the project if the hospital board so wanted.

Their statement, which also claimed that they did not benefit inappropriately from the tender process, came after Leo Varadkar remarked in the Dáil on Tuesday, that there are "one or two contractors" that he would not like to see ever get a public State contract again.

"We do have a real concern that some companies are low balling," the Taoiseach said.

"Coming in with very low tender prices to get the contract, then coming back with claims thereafter."

BAM subsequently called on the Taoiseach to clarify whether his statements were targeted at them, but Harris said today that the Taoiseach was not speaking about anyone in particular and that he is doing all he can for the project to be a success.

"The Taoiseach doesn't need to do anything other than what he has done," he said.

"BAM were awarded the contract and they have said they are getting on with the job. He's not talking about any individual company."

“[Hw] was saying if any company didn’t step up to the plate, let them face the consequences," he added.

"Everyone wants to build the children's hospital but everyone wants value for the taxpayer. No one is blaming anyone but there's an enquiry."

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