Simon Harris says protesters followed his wife to their house
Minister says leaders of cervical check programme ‘botched’ audit of smear test results
Members of the Fingal Battalion Direct Action Group.outside Minister for Health Simon Harris’s house last weekend. Photograph: Facebook
Minister for Health Simon Harris said protesters who gathered outside his house last weekend used his wife and baby to identify which house was his.
Speaking on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday morning, he said his wife had been walking with their daughter and he believes she was followed to his house by protesters, who had recognised her.
“I think my wife and baby had been used to identify where my house was,” he said “It’s clear they had a rough idea but maybe didn’t know where specifically”.
The protest has been widely condemned by politicians, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and campaigners.
The Minister hit out at those who organised the incident, saying it was not a legitimate protest.
“This wasn’t a protest. It was a clear attempt to intimidate my family and my neighbours,” he said. “It felt like a violation. It was a violation.”
He pointed out that while those outside his home were carrying signs claiming to be protesting on behalf of victims of the cervical check scandal, campaigner Vicky Phelan was sending him “supportive texts”.
“They hijack these causes in an attempt to bring intimidation and fear to a family,” he said, adding that what had happened at his home had been the launch of a campaign by the organisers of the incident to visit “judges, Minsters, councillors, TDs” at their homes.
Mr Harris also rejected suggestions he had panicked during the cervical check scandal last year, specifically that his decision to offer free smear tests for all women had overloaded the system.
“The decision was made for good reason, in consultation with my officials and the Chief Medical Officer,” he said.
“There’s a bit of serious revisionism. Everyone is talking about it from higher terrain, thankfully,” he said.
He added he had not discussed the decision with the leaders of the cervical check programme at the time as he had “lost confidence” in the team.
“I could not have confidence because they could not communicate with women,” he said, adding they “botched” the audit of smear test results.
Mr Harris was asked about comments made by former HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien who described the Minister as being like a “frightened little boy” during the crisis.
“It was a frightening time… women were scared and frightened”.
“That worry did reflect on me, I am a human being. I was worried as a country we weren’t able to provide basic information to reassure people,” he said.
The Mnister said he has has “a lot of time” for Mr O’Brien. “He had a very tough time and achieved a lot”.
Mr Harris said the nurses strike, which was paused last week to allow unions to consult their members on a proposed pay deal, was a “big challenge” for the Government due to the level of public support for nurses.
“The public clearly supported nurses and midwives,” he said. “On the other hand, we have a pay agreement with 290,000 public servants, other people who work really hard… we had to find a way to help nurses address some of their issues without tearing up that agreement.”
He praised the union leadership involved in the talks, who he said had “stepped up and came up with innovative solutions”.
On the prospect of further public sector strikes following the nurses’ pay deal, Mr Harris said “every union needs to now consider it. I’m confident it’s in line with the public service agreement”.