Monday 18 February 2019

Editorial: 'No universal agreement on absolving Harris of his sins'

'Harris is set to survive, but there is enormous damage done to the Government.' Picture: Arthur Carron.
'Harris is set to survive, but there is enormous damage done to the Government.' Picture: Arthur Carron.
Editorial

Editorial

If. A big if. The Taoiseach caveated his support for his Minister for Health by noting he had not been provided with all of the information that would be regarded as reasonable.

Simon Harris lives to fight another day despite the revelations this week around the cost overrun on the new national children's hospital.

"If Minister Harris had informed me any earlier of the emerging overrun in the cost of building the new NCH, I would have instructed him to do exactly what he did - explore all options to reduce the scale of it and to establish a precise and final figure.

"The impact on Budget 2019 is a red herring. It would have had no impact on the Budget Day package. Capital infrastructure spending profiles are now multi-annual and were announced in February 2018, not on Budget Day. The increase in the capital budget for 2019 was €1.5bn. €100m will have to be taken from this for the NCH overrun. It's manageable.

"I have total confidence in Minister Harris," the Taoiseach said in a statement.

The line from Fine Gael is Harris didn't tell anyone about the problem but made the right decisions on the project.

There isn't universal agreement on absolving Harris of his sins. Ministers are privately annoyed as they will now have to deal with the cost overrun which will take away from the development of other projects.

Harris is set to survive, but there is enormous damage done to the Government.

Fine Gael is now worried about their self-styled party of prudence image being damaged. In Fianna Fáil, there is dissent within the ranks as Micheál Martin is insisting Brexit trumps all domestic politics.

To go for Harris's head might tip over the Government in this country's hour of need. It's quite conceivable the fallout from a general election would mean there would be no government with a mandate formed come the Brexit date of March 30.

The distraction of canvassing is not a requirement for the country at this time.

Sinn Féin will look to split Fianna Fáil and call out individual TDs to back its motion of no confidence in Harris.

The view within Fine Gael is Harris's top priority was the abortion referendum and subsequent legislation.

The focus on the introduction of abortion by January of this year meant the ball got dropped on other matters.

It is difficult to see much of a difference between Harris's errors of judgment and those of Frances Fitzgerald and Denis Naughten, who Varadkar has already disposed of.

Varadkar's ability to criticise Harris is muted by his own abdication of responsibility as he ran away from the health portfolio after the last general election.

And behind all of this is a political system and civil service that doesn't seem to have learned the lessons of the economic crash.

The level of dysfunction between the Departments of Public Expenditure, Finance, Health and the HSE is quite alarming.

Irish Independent

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