Nurses lead condemnation of protest outside Simon Harris’s home

Harris says what happened ‘was plain and simple intimidation’

 

A protest outside Minister for Health Simon Harris’s home on Sunday afternoon has been condemned by politicians, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and campaigners.

About a dozen anti-austerity protesters held banners outside Mr Harris’s home in Co Wicklow.

Gardaí said the demonstrators left the scene peacefully after an hour.

Mr Harris was in the house at the time with his wife and their three-week-old daughter. Mr Harris has been under mounting pressure in recent weeks due to the nurses and midwives’ strikes and the spiralling costs of the national children’s hospital.

The INMO said it condemned in the “strongest possible terms” protests outside Mr Harris’s family home.

“The protests are completely inappropriate,” it said.

Mr Harris said on Monday the use of the word protest to describe what happened “somewhat gives a legitimacy to what was plain and simple intimidation of my family, intimidation of my neighbours and intimidation of my community.”

He said a legitimate protest is something that has a very important role in a democratic society. “What happened yesterday to myself, to my wife, to my young baby and to our neighbours was not protest , was absolutely not protest. And I really think it raises a very important question about the tone of political debate and discourse and perhaps media discourse in this country as well,” he said.

“Yesterday I opened the Sunday newspapers to hear references to the torturing of the minister for health, the plan to end his career by many many cuts and this sort of language, this sort of emotive language that sets out to demonise people doesn’t belong in political discourse, doesn’t belong in media discourse. There’s a way of robustly questioning people, challenging people that doesn’t seek to dehumanise them.

“I don’t think it’s in any way coincidental that I was targeted yesterday and that my family was targeted yesterday. I very much welcome the condemnation across the political spectrum, I genuinely do. But I think it’s about more than condemnation. I think it’s about all of us recognising as politicians and perhaps as a media as well that there’s a way to scrutinise and there’s a way to hold to account, not forgetting that at the end of the day that people who do step up to serve the public are just human beings with families,” he added.

“This is the politics of intimidation and not democracy,” the Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned.

“No minister, particularly not a minister with a young family, should be targeted in that way.”

“I am delighted that people from all political spectrums have been very critical as they should be.

“In some ways I think the less said about this the better because it only encourages people.”

“I don’t think that it is acceptable that a young woman with a new born baby should be targeted which is what happened here,” Mr Coveney said.

“Hardly a brave thing to do – to be intimidating people outside their own homes without even knowing, by the way, that the minister was there.”

“I think it is a low – it is not the first time it has happened.”

“I have some experience of that with my own family as well. A number of years ago when it was water charges and household charges that people were protesting against,” the Tánaiste added.

‘Utterly unacceptable’

Former HSE director general Tony O’Brien said the protest was “totally unacceptable”.

“It is wrong under all circumstances. It is especially wrong to intrude on precious family time with a newborn baby,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said the protest was “completely and utterly unacceptable”.

“Everyone is entitled to peace and security with their family in their own home. Putting yourself forward for public service does not take that right away,” he said.

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan wrote on social media “and we wonder why people are put off being a politician? Go figure”.

David Hall, chief executive of the Irish Mortgage Holders’ Association, said the protest was “despicable” and that family homes “should always be off limits as should family members”.

The group that organised the protest, Fingal Battalion Direct Action Group, said Mr Harris had “completely neglected” his position as Minister for Health.

In a statement they highlighted issues including the CervicalCheck controversy, the Bill proposing to legalise medicinal cannabis, nurses’ strikes, the children’s hospital overspend, hospital waiting lists and the housing crisis.

Minister of State John Halligan described the protest as “grossly unfair and unnecessary”.

“There’s a way to deal with politicians – wait for a chance at the ballot box,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show on Monday.

Mr Halligan said he had full confidence in the Minister for Health and called on the public to wait for PwC’s report into cost overruns at the children’s hospital.

“It’s a tough job somebody has to do it,” he said.

“It’s a very difficult time when we have the complexity of Brexit. Let’s stand together.”

Liam Herrick of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties also criticised the protest outside the Minister’s home. He said there was a constitutional right to peaceful protest which is the “absolute corner stone of democracy,” but this was competing with “the right to privacy, the family right to the inviolability of the family home.”

Mr Herrick said the protest had been counter-productive because the subsequent discussion was about the protest and not the Minister’s action.

Fine Gael Senator Gabrielle McFadden told the programme there had been “a coarsening of political discussion” because of social media. “Yesterday was absolutely disgusting,” she said.

“To do that at his home, at this special time for his family with a new baby, he should be enjoying it. I think it was disgusting.

“Just because he was elected doesn’t mean he gave up his rights,” she said.