Taoiseach backs Harris after Health Minister narrowly survives no confidence vote

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has backed Simon Harris to continue in the role as the Health Minister survived this evening's no confidence motion with just five votes to spare.

Minister Harris came out on the right end of a 58-53 vote after Sinn Féin's motion of no confidence failed. However, there were 40 abstentions as Fianna Fáil didn't vote, citing triggering a General Election as their reason for doing so.

Speaking ahead of the vote, the Taoiseach outlined why he still has confidence in Simon Harris to continue in the role.

"I have confidence in the Minister for Health for many reasons. He’s a Minister who is getting things done: a successful referendum on the 8th Amendment, a Public Health Alcohol Act, and, after years of little investment, three new National Hospital projects now under construction and a fourth due to go to tender in the foreseeable future," Mr Varadkar outlined.

He added: "Free GP care has been extended to all carers and a medical card to all children with a severe disability, regardless of their parents’ income.

"The HPV vaccines for boys and improved patient outcomes in cancer, stroke, heart attack and cystic fibrosis."

The Taoiseach did also address some of the criticisms directed at Minister Harris.

"Even in the toughest of areas, like the number of patients on trollies, he has made measurable progress.

"While still far too many, this year so far it is the lowest in three years and in January the number of patients waiting more than three months for an operation or a procedure - the Sláintecare target - was at a four-year low.

We’ve lost some ground due to recent strikes but we will regain that ground," he conceded.

The vote of no confidence was triggered due to the Minister - and the Government's - handling of the National Children's Hospital. However, while acknowledging errors in the process, Mr Varadkar stated his confidence in the job.

"I also have confidence in the National Children’s Hospital project. I acknowledge that major errors were made in calculating the true cost of building a hospital of this scale and complexity.

As Head of Government, I collectively and personally accept responsibility for that.

Alan Kelly, Labour's spokesperson on health, criticised the timing of the vote, calling it a "distraction".

Speaking before the vote he stated: "I think this motion, which will ultimately be defeated is a distraction and not timed well and if anything lets the Government off the hook."

Mr Kelly, while voting in favour of the motion of no confidence, admitted that the problems in health stem back from before Simon Harris' time in charge.

Bad politics has destroyed the Ministry of Health. Bad politics of 30 years has turned the Department into the Ministry the Taoiseach of the day gives to his pupil who he needs to bring down a peg or two," he exclaimed.

"I say this quite openly we really need to grow up as a political institution in how we manage the politics of Health and your tweet this morning Minister ‘bring it on’ wasn’t wise. It did nothing for you Minister," Tipperary TD Kelly added.

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