FF accused of ‘hiding behind a fig leaf’ over hospital confidence vote

Sinn Féin tables motion against Simon Harris for Wednesday over escalating costs

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised Fianna Fáil’s refusal to support its motion and dismissed its argument that such a move would precipitate a general election. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised Fianna Fáil’s refusal to support its motion and dismissed its argument that such a move would precipitate a general election. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Fianna Fáil has come under attack from other opposition parties for berating Minister for Health Simon Harris while refusing to support a motion of no confidence in him.

Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Harris which will be debated in the Dáíl on Wednesday, primarily over the failure to control the escalating costs of the new national children’s hospital.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised Fianna Fáil’s refusal to support its motion and dismissed its argument that such a move would precipitate a general election.

Speaking in advance of the Dáíl debate on Wednesday, she said: “Fianna Fail can’t have it both ways They can’t on the one hand occupy the airwaves with a long ochón about Fine Gael and on the other hand say in the next breath we are not going to do anything about it.

“On the issue of the election, let us be clear about this. There can only be an election if Leo Varadkar takes a trip to the Phoenix Park. There can only be an election if Micheál Martin decides that the game is up.

“Ministers have already left this administration. It already happened and the Government did not collapse.”

Fianna Fáil has been to the forefront in criticising Mr Harris over his handling of the crisis yet has announced it will abstain in the confidence vote on Wednesday evening.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin also accused the party of double standards on the issue and contended Fianna Fáil was “hiding behind a fig leaf”.

“Why do Fianna Fáil think it would lead to an election?” he asked. “They held the minister for justice to account last year and it did not cause a general election. Parliament holds ministers to account.

“The only person who can call a general election is the Taoiseach. If he thinks it is not the right time for a general election he can (change the minister).”

However, Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath strongly rejected the charge, saying the inevitable consequence of his party supporting the no confidence motion would be an immediate general election.

“It’s an act of national sabotage of us as a country if we were to thrust our people into a general election in the middle of March which would be the outcome, let’s be frank, of us supporting a motion of no confidence,” said Mr McGrath.

Mr McGrath said Fianna Fáil had given a commitment last December it would see the Brexit through at a time of chaos and it would be reckless now for it to do otherwise.

“The party is doing that notwithstanding the Government making life very difficult for us and others to sustain that.”

Ms McDonald suggested there might be some backbench TDs in Fianna Fáil who might be persuaded to defy the party whip.

“Are there any deputies who are willing to actually make a stand on behalf of those people who rely on a health system that is increasingly chaotic?” she asked.

The decision by Independent TD for Clare Michael Harty to change his vote from abstain to no confidence is not expected to affect the outcome of the vote.

The Government will rely on 49 Fine Gael votes, six from independent ministers, as well as support from two other non-aligned Deputies, probably Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish.

Fianna Fáil has said it will abstain in the vote notwithstanding the party’s continuing criticism of the performance of Mr Harris.

The cost of the project has risen from an estimated €800 million in 2014, to €983 million in 2017, and €1.43 billion now. Equipping the building and providing IT pushes this bill up to €1.73 billion; this does not include the cost of family accommodation, a research centre, excess construction inflation and any other changes to clinical standards.