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What's going to happen to the government if Halligan resigns?

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said if the government plans to rely on Michael Lowry’s support, it needs to let that be known.

Image: RollingNews.ie

FRESH FROM ITS Dáil recall over the Apple tax ruling yesterday, the government found itself still under pressure today – again from within its own ranks.

Minister of State for Skills and Training John Halligan has, as is becoming habit, threatened to leave the minority government if he doesn’t get his way.

The Waterford deputy wants a second cath lab at his local hospital (a catheterisation lab specialises in examining the heart), which he said was promised to him by ministers during government formation talks.

During that testy time, Fine Gael agreed to an independent review of University Hospital Waterford.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the independent clinical review completed by Dr Niall Herity, made clear recommendations that a second cardiac cath lab at the hospital “is not justified and I accept this”.

However, Dr Herity does recommends investing in the existing cardiac services at the hospital.

Today, the Waterford TD took to the airwaves on WLRFM claiming Finance Michael Noonan and Housing Minister Simon Coveney had given him assurances that the review of services at the hospital was just “a formality” and the second lab would become a reality.

Halligan also claimed that while Noonan said Fine Gael could not be seen to give political favours, there was a commitment that cardiac service improvements would be delivered.

Cabinet colleagues 

The relationship between the Independent Alliance members of government has been fraught at times.

A few months ago, there was a crisis over whether the independents would go against their Fine Gael Cabinet members on Mick Wallace’s abortion bill.

More recently, the members called for assurances on Ireland’s tax regime in return for supporting the decision to appeal the European Commission’s €13 billion Apple ruling.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly today slammed Halligan for not respecting the findings of the hospital review and for “holding the government to ransom”.

She said health facilities, in any part of the country, have to based on clinical need.

“Halligan needs to make up his mind,” echoed her Sinn Fein colleague Pearse Doherty.

So, what happens if he does leave?

If John Halligan leaves, the government’s numbers are reduced. This could nullify the confidence arrangement Fianna Fail entered into with Fine Gael.

Here’s why…

It is understood the arrangement between the two largest parties was based on the Fine Gael-led minority government having the support of 58 members of the Dáil.

Officially, there is currently the bare minimum in this category, including Fine Gael party members, the Independent Alliance and Katherine Zappone.

However, the government can count on Michael Lowry being a 59th for now despite Enda Kenny’s previous statement that he will “not have any other dealings” with the Tipperary TD.

That could quickly become a bone of contention. Pearse Doherty has already said the government will have to make it clear whose support it is relying upon if Halligan leaves.

At that stage, the government will have to state clearly that they are now relying on Michael Lowry’s support which is something they are not willing to do.
“It will be interesting to see if Fianna Fail will live up to the agreement that they have or if Enda Kenny will break his promise that he will not rely on Michael Lowry’s support.”

Halligan said he has received backing from his party members on the hospital issue.

A source close to the group said all Independent Alliance members are “very supportive” of Halligan, adding that they are a “very tight bunch”.

It’s understood all five members of the party remained with Halligan and Harris until late yesterday evening in an attempt to resolve the issue.

The Independent Alliance is expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the matter further.

Frustrations

It’s understood in government circles that frustrations are high with Halligan. Although one Fine Gael source said they were “rather positive” that a solution could be found which would satisfy his concerns.

Harris said he is undertaking a national review of all primary services with the aim to ensure that as many patients as possible have access on a 24/7 basis to safe and sustainable emergency interventions following a heart attack.

“I expect the review to be completed by the end of July 2017,” he said. 

Additional resources such as new specialist equipment will be provided to the hospital, which will be reflected in the health service national service plan for next year.

There is speculation that behind the scenes work is ongoing to assess what options are open to government if Halligan jumps ship.

There are other people within the Dáil who could join the coalition to enhance numbers. Names being mentioned include Tipperary independent Mattie McGrath, Galway’s Noel Grealish and even the recent Social Democrats dissenter Stephen Donnelly.

A government source said that no approaches have been made to any TD based on the assumption that Halligan might resign.

Halligan, who was expected to return to Dublin this afternoon, will now remain in Waterford for the evening.

A spokesperson for the Independent Alliance said the Dr Herity’s report, which was released by the minister this afternoon, was sent to Halligan before it was made public.

He received it about 30 minutes before the minister released a statement. The report, which is over 50 pages long, is believed to mainly focus on the catchment area for the services.

Halligan is expected to review the report this evening – with a hope that a decision on his future will follow imminently.

Read: “I’m still in … for the time being”: John Halligan hasn’t decided whether to quit the government>

Read: Dáil approves government plan to appeal Apple tax ruling>

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