Sinn Féin seeking no confidence motion in HSE chief Tony O’Brien
Senior Government figures say pressure for O’Brien to depart may become overwhelming
Dáil private members’ business on Tuesday is scheduled for a motion from the Rural Independents group of TDs, but Sinn Féin says it will seek to amend the Rural Independents’ motion with its own motion of no confidence in the HSE chief
Sinn Féin has published a motion of no confidence in HSE director general Tony O’Brien, which it will seek to have debated in the Dáil next week.
If the motion reaches the floor of the House – which is uncertain as Sinn Féin does not have private members’ time next week – it will force the Government to back Mr O’Brien or publicly disavow him.
In recent days Ministers have avoided expressing confidence in the HSE chief, while Opposition figures have called for him to resign or be sacked.
Vicky Phelan, the terminally-ill woman whose legal action revealed the smear test scandal, has repeatedly called for Mr O’Brien to resign. At the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday, Mr O’Brien rejected calls from several Deputies to resign.
Dáil private members’ business on Tuesday is scheduled for a motion from the Rural Independents group of TDs, but Sinn Féin says it will seek to amend the Rural Independents’ motion with its own motion of no confidence in the HSE boss.
The Rural Independents motion calls on the Government to provide more funding for healthcare, and requires a number of reforms to the system. The Rural Independents group includes deputies Michael Harty, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Collins and Michael Lowry.
It is not clear if the Sinn Féin amendment will be permitted under Dáil rules. The Ceann Comhairle’s office is likely to make a ruling on its admissibility on Tuesday morning.
Senior Government figures do not want Mr O’Brien to leave his post immediately, but some say the pressure for him to depart may become overwhelming.
One informed source said he expected Mr O’Brien would depart before his term elapses. “We’re genuinely conflicted,” the source said. “It’s a marginal call whether he should stay for a bit or go immediately.”
The source conceded Mr O’Brien would find it difficult to stay if the Dáil voted no confidence in him.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly has said Mr O’Brien “should step back with immediate effect”. However, he declined to say if the party would support the Sinn Féin no confidence motion, indicating rather that the party would abstain.
Even if Fine Gael voted against a no confidence motion there is no guarantee the motion would be defeated. Dáil numbers suggest it is still possible the motion could be carried.
The Sinn Féin amended motion calls on the Government to “immediately remove Tony O’Brien as director general of the HSE as Dáil Éireann declares that it has no confidence in him continuing in his position”.
Health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said: “Vicky Phelan has called for Tony O’Brien to be sacked, saying he is more concerned with defending the indefensible than doing the right thing.
“Tony O’Brien’s position is untenable, and he must not be allowed to sail off into the sunset with a golden handshake and a generous pension. He has presided over this scandal. He cannot be allowed to remain in charge of the HSE when the inquiries into this scandal are ongoing.
“The culture of cover-up and unaccountability in this State needs to end. The protection of the institution should not be prioritised over the welfare of our citizens any longer.”