Simon Harris could face no-confidence motion

By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

The opposition is considering tabling a motion of no confidence against Health Minister Simon Harris early in the new year, a move that could defeat the coalition’s paper-thin majority and trigger a snap general election.

A number of parties have signalled in recent days that it may only be a number of days into January before a fresh move could be made against the Fine Gael-Independent coalition.

TDs and senior party figures confirmed to the Irish Examiner at the weekend that Mr Harris could be next in line to face a motion of no confidence after Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy last week narrowly escaped an end to his position by just three votes after such a challenge.

Labour, the Rural Independent Group, and Sinn Féin have now all left the door open on tabling such a motion against Mr Harris, while Fianna Fáil declined to rule it out when contacted.

Mattie McGrath, whose seven-member rural group will get a private members motion slot in February, told the Irish Examiner: “We would not rule one out. [Simon] Harris should be long gone.”

Standing orders in the Dáil mean motions of no confidence can only be tabled against an individual minister once every six months. By the time the Dáil returns in January after the Christmas break, it will have been a year since such a motion was tabled against Mr Harris.

Labour’s health spokesman, Alan Kelly, told a Sunday newspaper that his party is “in a permanent state of no confidence in Simon Harris” and that January and February are “the worst months” of the health service.

A spokesman for Labour leader Brendan Howlin told the Irish Examiner:

We haven’t ruled anything out. This is a winter trolley crisis and Cork and Limerick hospitals are particularly bad with no sign of ministerial intervention.

Sinn Féin is also keeping its options open when it comes to moving against the embattled coalition. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald told Newstalk that the Fine Gael-led Government is “on the ropes, on its last legs”. She said a general election is “imminent” and that voters want one.

“People haven’t seen the benefits of the recovery,” she told On the Record. “The days of this Government are numbered.”

Ms McDonald said she believed there would be an election very soon in the new year, but she declined to say if her party would be the one to move against the coalition and cause one.

A separate senior Sinn Féin source said the party would take each motion available to it and “examine all options”.

“Fianna Fáil have kept this Government in power and I don’t see that changing just yet,” said an influential party figure.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris declined to comment.

The considerations come after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledged to his Fine Gael TDs and senators last week that he and the party would be unwilling to support a Fianna Fáil minority government after the next general election. He told the parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House that he believed Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be “neck and neck” going into an election.

Mr Varadkar told members that he believed Fine Gael would come out on top after an election with more TDs. However, he insisted to his party he would not do a confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil if they had less numbers and tried to form a coalition with other parties. There was universal backing for his statement, said party sources.

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