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Simon Harris survives motion of no confidence, as Fianna Fáil abstains

The Sinn Féin motion was tabled in response to the controversy surrounding the increasing costs of constructing the National Children’s Hospital.

Simon Harris can continue in his role as health minister following tonight's vote.
Simon Harris can continue in his role as health minister following tonight's vote.
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas.ie

Updated Feb 20th 2019, 7:15 PM

THE MOTION OF no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris has been defeated by votes by 53 to 58, with 37 abstentions.

The Sinn Féin motion of no-confidence in the minister was tabled in response to the controversy surrounding the increasing costs of constructing the National Children’s Hospital. 

The government estimates the new hospital will now cost €1.7 billion, however there is speculation it could rise to above €2 billion.

Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have both said the government will not re-tender the National Children’s Hospital project, despite the contractor behind the hospital, BAM, saying it would co-operate with the hospital board if they wanted it to opt out of the contract. 

Launching the motion today, Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said her party are not going to stand on the sidelines and let government waste money.

Accountability

Hitting out at Fianna Fáil for abstaining from today’s vote, she said the party don’t understand public accountability, adding that they are simply afraid of it.

Reading out a long list of health crises the minister has presided over, she asked how anyone can defend such failings, not least the massive overrun of the children’s hospital and withholding information from his own government colleagues 

Earlier today, the health minister sent a defiant tweet stating “Bring it on ahead of the Dáil motion of no-confidence.

Harris’ tweet includes a motivational image stating: “The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.”

The minister’s tweet attracted harsh criticism from the opposition benches, with Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath calling it “childish” and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher appealing to the minister to show some “contrition”. 

While the confidence motion was centred on Harris, much of the focus this evening was between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, with constant sniping across the chamber. 

Mary Lou McDonald called the confidence and supply deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil a “grubby deal” stating that it is utter hypocrisy for Fianna Fáil to abstain from the vote tonight. 

Screenshot 2019-02-20 at 16.39.34

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said his party would not engage in political “sabotage and treason” in voting against the minister. He said support in the motion would result in a general election in the run up to Brexit. 

One member of Fianna Fáil, John McGuinness, who has been highly critical of the minister, as well as his own party’s continuous support to Fine Gael, questioned why Fianna Fáil continue to “sit on their hands”. 

He said had this motion of no confidence been in the government, he could support it. However, he said he did not think Harris is solely to blame in the NCH failings. 

Labour’s Alan Kelly called tonight’s motion the “most bizarre motion of no confidence” the House has ever seen, stating that the focus is more on Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil than Minister Harris.

‘Political arse-covering’

He added that he was fed up of ’”political arse covering” in health, which has not served the people well. Kelly also told the minister his tweet today did not serve him well. 

Independent TD Michael Harty, who is also the chair of the health committee, had previously indicated that he would be supporting the motion. 

Harty said he gave Harris space to grow into the job, but said he had failed to do so. Over the last year, he said he has witnessed the minister’s complete misunderstanding of the dysfunction in the health service. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney lead the defence of Harris today. 

Varadkar said being health minister is the most important job, adding that it is also good training for higher office.

Listing off Harris’ achievements, like the passing of the abortion referendum, he said  progress is being made on trolley numbers as well as waiting lists.

Defending his record, Harris said he wants to make progress on a number of issues this year, including rolling out HPV vaccine for boys, implementing an opt-out organ donation system as well as enacting the human reproduction Bill which will help with IVF for couples. 

He told the Dáil he wants to “get on with the job”, adding that the government will get to the bottom of what went wrong with the overspend in the NCH.

Focus on who knew what when in terms of the hospital overspend remains tonight, as Róisín Shortall said she received two different answers to a parliamentary question.

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