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Nurses 'strongly condemn' protest outside Simon Harris' home

The anti-government protesters left the scene peacefully after gardaí arrived.

Image: Fingal Battalion Direct Action Group

Updated Feb 10th 2019, 6:49 PM

THE IRISH NURSES and Midwives Organisation has condemned the protest held outside Health Minister Simon Harris’ home today.

In a statement, the INMO said the organisation and its members “condemn in the strongest possible terms the protests today outside Minister Harris’ family home”, adding: “The protests are completely inappropriate.”

A group of protesters gathered outside Harris’ home in Co Wicklow this afternoon.

Harris, his wife Caoimhe and daughter Saoirse, who was born last month, were inside the house in Greystones at the time.

The protesters, from Fingal Battalion Direct Action Group, Wicklow Says No and the Anti-Eviction Flying Column, left the scene peacefully after gardaí arrived.

A spokesperson for Harris told TheJournal.ie: “The incident has now concluded.

“The Minister would like to thank An Garda Síochána for their assistance and in ensuring his wife and daughter’s safety. He has no further comment to make at this time.”

Gardaí confirmed they attended the scene, stating: “Protestors have left the scene peacefully and enquiries will be carried out.”

‘Completely neglected’ 

In a statement, the protesters said Harris has “completely neglected” his position as health minister and criticised how he has handled the ongoing strike by INMO members.

They said they are also unhappy with how he has handled a number of other issues such as the significant budget overrun at the new National Children’s Hospital, the CervicalCheck controversy, a Bill proposing the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, and long waiting lists in the health service.

The protesters said they “fully support” striking nurses and midwives. They also criticised Fine Gael over the homelessness and housing crisis, mentioning the “hundreds of people [who] are sleeping on our streets every night”.

The group said today’s action marks the launch of its Bring It To Their Doors campaign, which will target councillors, TDs, landlords, bankers and “anyone else who lines up against [the working class]” for their role in “austerity and corruption”.

“The Working Class is getting Organised – the People are ready to fight back. The Free State’s Days are Numbered,” the statement reads. 

A number of Harris’ past and present colleagues have also condemned the protest, saying politicians’ homes or families should not be targeted. 

Nurses’ strike and National Children’s Hospital

Harris has been under mounting pressure in recent weeks due to the nurses and midwives’ strike and the spiralling costs of the children’s hospital.

Some 37,000 members of the INMO plan to hold three more 24-hour strikes this week in an ongoing dispute over pay and staffing levels. About 6,000 members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association are also engaging in industrial action, citing similar concerns.

Talks at the Labour Court are ongoing between the INMO and the government this evening in a bid to resolve the dispute. 

Earlier today, it was confirmed that Harris plans to apologise to the Dáil over information he provided regarding the cost of the children’s hospital. 

The health minister came under fire last week after it emerged he was informed in August that the budget for the hospital could overrun by €391 million.

6507 HSE_s Winter Plan_90561446 Simon Harris Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Opposition parties have accused Harris of misleading the Dáil as an answer he gave to a parliamentary question failed to indicate that costs were escalating.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have also criticised the fact that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe were not informed about the potential overrun until 9 November.

Harris has denied misleading the Dáil and said he “behaved entirely appropriately” in terms of informing government colleagues there would be a significant overrun in the cost of building the hospital. Varadkar said he has “total confidence” in Harris.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee recently heard the total cost of the project is “highly unlikely” to come in under €2 billion. A figure of €983 million for the development was approved by the government in 2017.

Today a spokesperson for Harris confirmed the minister would apologise to the Dáil this week over the information he provided.

They told RTÉ’s This Week: “While the minister couldn’t provide figures during commercially sensitive negotiations and because the figures were not known, he has said he wishes he had inserted some initial information – specifically reference the fact that there was a process underway to finalise pricing for Phase B (of the Children’s Hospital).

“Whilst the parliamentary question was factually correct, Minister Harris will be happy to apologise for not providing such context.”

Sinn Féin has said Harris’ position is untenable. Fianna Fáil has criticised Harris’ handling of the issue but stopped short of calling on him to step down.

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Órla Ryan

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