Harris survives Sinn Féin motion of no confidence 58 to 53
No-confidence debate in Minister for Health marked by heated exchanges
Minister for Health Simon Harris has survived a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence by 58 votes to 53 with 37 abstentions when a walk-through vote was called.
Mr Harris survived when as expected under the confidence and supply arrangement Fianna Fáil abstained, while Independents Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry and Denis Naughten voted with the Government. Former Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick voted with Sinn Féin as did the other parties and Independents. *
In the debate Taoiseach Leo Varadkar staunchly defended Mr Harris and described him as the Minister “for getting things done”, while he accused Sinn Féin of being “trigger happy” with its sixth no confidence motion in three years.
Some eight Cabinet Ministers flanked Mr Harris with more than a dozen Ministers of State in attendance.
Mr Harris hit out at Sinn Féin, saying that “to the ballot box and the armalite, they have added the soap box and the no confidence motion”.
He said the Government would build the children’s hospital and “get to the bottom of what has gone wrong and we will ensure lessons are learned”.
“But we will not walk away from this vital project.”
Introducing the motion, Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly described the Minister as being “out of his depth”.
She said even Mr Harris’s most ardent supporter could not defend his record as she listed a lengthy series of health service problems including the cost overruns at the national children’s hospital.
Ms O’Reilly said the motion was not “rushed, vindictive or personalised” but the hospital overspend represented the “final straw” for her party and described Fianna Fáil as “opportunistic cowards”.
‘Puff out your chest’
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald slated the Minister’s post on Twitter when he moved to “puff out your chest and to declare, ‘bring it on’ ”.
She lambasted Fianna Fáil and said party leader Micheál Martin had listed a litany of Mr Harris’s failings but would “give the Government a blank cheque”.
She said “sleeveen politics is now the order of the day. This is a coalition in all but name.”
Much of the debate was spent in trading insults between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin with Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny calling for Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin “to go”.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said Sinn Féin wanted to “complete their hat trick and bring the Dáil down” after they refused to take their seats in Westminster and had “pulled down” the Executive in Northern Ireland.
His party had no confidence in the Minister, but to vote against him “is to trigger a general election”, which would mean no parliamentary oversight of CervicalCheck and losing any chance of getting the costs of the children’s hospital down.
Dissident Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said there were those in his party and others who “want us to pull the plug”. And he said “I don’t know why we sit on our hands” and support the Government.
He called for “an orderly wind down of the Government”.
Fianna Fáil enterprise spokesman Billy Kelleher told the Minister “a little contrition wouldn’t go astray in terms of your tweets” and everything was “poorly handled”. He called for more action and for Mr Harris to “stay off the Twitter machine”.
He told Sinn Féin “you thrive on chaos” and said “there is a difference between being a party of Opposition and a party of opportunism”.
Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly described the debate as the most bizarre motion of no confidence where the attention was not on Mr Harris.
He said the Minister was “fundamentally a decent and competent man but the situation is intolerable”.
* This article was amended on Thursday, February 21st, 2019 to remove an incorrect reference to Independent TD Catherine Connolly abstaining.