Government put on 'notice to quit' as Harris narrowly survives no-confidence vote

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

The Government has been put on “notice to quit” and urged to begin “an orderly wind-down” despite Health Minister Simon Harris narrowly surviving a motion of no confidence.

Opposition parties issued the threat as the Dáil last night voted 58-53 for Mr Harris to continue in office — just one more than the minimum needed for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to continue the confidence and supply deal.

Two hours of intense debate saw Sinn Féin take aim at Mr Harris and Fianna Fáil for its decision to abstain, before the Dáil voted against removing him as health minister.

In all, 49 Fine Gael TDs, four Independent Alliance TDs, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, and unaligned Independent Sean Canney backed Mr Harris. They were added to by unaligned Independents Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, and Denis Naughten, the latter of whom was earlier locked in discussions with Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

The Government’s relief will be tinged with concern over the fresh calls for the coalition to collapse.

Sinn Féin TDs began yesterday’s debate by insisting the national children’s hospital and cervical cancer crises mean Mr Harris should be sacked.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly warned Mr Harris not to monopolise last May’s Eighth Amendment result as “you did not do that alone” and that “even your most ardent supporter could not defend your position”.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Harris “believes he is untouchable” before turning to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to say: “The question is a simple one, either you have confidence in the minister or you don’t.”

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, Barry Cowen, Stephen Donnelly, and Mary Butler said while they do not have faith in Mr Harris, they cannot risk causing an election weeks out from Brexit.

Party TD John McGuinness broke ranks, saying “Brexit or not”, the Government’s days are coming to an end.

“This debate quite clearly is putting the Government on notice, notice to quit. Have an orderly wind-down of the Government, because you are a total failure. A total failure. I actually don’t know anymore why we support you. The majority of this House have had enough of your Government,” said Mr McGuinness.

The Government had earlier defended Mr Harris, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr Coveney, and Kate O’Connell coming to his aid.

After Mr Varadkar said that accountability “is not giving into the baying mob, a thirst for blood letting, and a head on a plate every second day”, Mr Coveney hit out at Sinn Féin’s “keyboard warriors”.

Mr Harris was earlier criticised for “taunting” rivals by posting a message on Twitter saying “bring it on”.

He said quitting “is not in my DNA” and referred to achievements under his watch, including the Eighth Amendment referendum.

Despite surviving the vote, his claims were ridiculed by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Mick Barry, who said: “‘Bring it on.’ ‘Walking away is not in my DNA.’ Minister, these are like bad lines in a Clint Eastwood movie.”

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