Clare TD says he will vote no confidence in Minister for Health

Deferral of 60-bed unit in University Hospital Limerick behind Michael Harty’s volte face

Independent TD Dr Michael Harty, who is also  the chair of the Oireachtas health committee.  ‘I cannot support a Minister who is not able to deliver on the commitment he has made.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Independent TD Dr Michael Harty, who is also the chair of the Oireachtas health committee. ‘I cannot support a Minister who is not able to deliver on the commitment he has made.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Independent Clare TD Michael Harty has announced he will now vote no confidence in Minister for Health Simon Harris, only 24 hours after he said he would abstain in a motion prompted by the escalating costs of the national children’s hospital.

Dr Harty, the chair of the Oireachtas health committee, said his sudden volte face was caused by the disclosure on Monday that the completion of a 60-bed modular unit in University Hospital Limerick would be deferred until mid-2020 as a consequence of overspending on the children’s hospital site.

On Sunday, he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that he would abstain in the vote.

“I have changed my mind since [Sunday],” he said on Monday night.

“The emergency department in Limerick is the most overcrowded in the country, according to all the measures that are used. We were assured the 60-bed unit would be delivered in time for the winter of 2019/2020. That window has now been closed and it will not be ready until mid-2020 at the earliest,” he said.

“That is a breach of trust for the people of Limerick by Mr Harris and I cannot support a Minister who is not able to deliver on the commitment he has made.”

Slight doubt

The decision by Dr Harty to vote against the Government will cast slight doubt on the outcome of the vote on Wednesday evening.

While some senior Fianna Fáil TDs are very unhappy at the cost overruns at the hospital, its TDs will abstain

Because it is a confidence vote, it will take place immediately after the debate on the Sinn Féin motion, rather than on Thursday, which is the Dáil’s usual voting day.

The vote is expected to be close, with whips privately saying the Government will have a majority of a “handful of votes”.

While some senior Fianna Fáil TDs are very unhappy at the cost overruns at the hospital, its TDs will abstain, with none expected to break ranks. There are 49 Fine Gael TDs and six Independent Ministers. Neither former minister Denis Naughten nor former Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick have said they would vote against the Government. Two other Independent TDs, Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish, are expected to abstain. All other Independents, and smaller parties, are expected to support the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Mr Harris.

The spiralling costs of the national children’s hospital has led to growing unease among a number of prominent Fianna Fáil TDs about the party’s ongoing arrangement with the Fine Gael Government.

Walk away

Over the weekend Limerick TD Willie O’Dea said the party could walk away from the deal if there was a stable Brexit in the next few months.

On Monday, sources in the party played down the prospect of the party making any commitment to break from the agreement if there were a resolution on Brexit in the short term.

A senior figure said the position was “unchanged” since Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke in the Dáil on December 12th.

The hospital issue has brought into focus the difficulties for Fianna Fáil over confidence and supply

“Abstaining this week [on the Sinn Féin no-confidence motion on Minister for Health Simon Harris] is irking them but it is being done in the interest of stability given it is less than 40 days to March 29th. We should all concentrate on Brexit preparations,” said the source, who did not want to be named.

The hospital issue has brought into focus the difficulties for Fianna Fáil over confidence and supply. Some TDs question if its status as main opposition party can be sustained.

Mr Martin will have to navigate the tricky line between opposition and support when giving his keynote speech at the party’s ardfheis next weekend.