Taoiseach has total confidence in Simon Harris amid calls for resignation

The Taoiseach has said he has total confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris.

Taoiseach has total confidence in Simon Harris amid calls for resignation

The Taoiseach has said he has total confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris.

It comes as documents show Minister Harris was aware of a possible €400m overrun at the National Children's Hospital in August last year, seven weeks before he told the Taoiseach or the Finance Minister.

Leo Varadkar has said concerns about the impact that had on budget planning are a red herring - as capital expenditure was decided last February.

The Taoiseach said even if Simon Harris had told him about the overruns earlier, he would have instructed him to do exactly what he did.

PAC chair: Harris should 'do the right thing' and resign today

By Vivienne Clarke

The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming is calling on the Minister for Health Simon Harris to “do the right thing” and resign today.

Mr Fleming told Newstalk Breakfast that personally he feels confidence in the Confidence and Supply agreement is “diminishing rapidly”.

“We’re not yet at zero, but we’re heading there. At this moment we’re rapidly heading to zero confidence in the Minister for Health.”

However, he said that he did not think a vote of confidence in the Minister for Health should happen. “The Minister should do the right thing, he should step out of office.

“The Dáil shouldn’t have to force the Government to do the right thing. If he doesn’t step down the issue will continue.”

Mr Fleming said that as Chair of the PAC he was disappointed that he had to receive details on the cost over run for the national children’s hospital “in dribs and drabs.”

He also said that he did not believe the cost being discussed at present is accurate.

“We never got accurate information. I have no confidence in any of the figures there.”

Mr Fleming said there will be a bigger problem going forward and asked if the people over seeing the project so far should be allowed to continue to do so for the next three years.

He said that as a Fianna Fáil spokesperson his view was quite clear that information was withheld during the Budget negotiations. “We worked on the basis that we had the full facts, the true information. It is clear that the Minister knew the figures were not accurate.”

Fianna Fáil should not have to decide the future of Simon Harris, he added. “A vote of confidence should not arise. I think the country wants him to resign.”

Sinn Féin says Simon Harris' position is 'untenable'

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly says that the Minister for Health’s position is “untenable” and she is calling on Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to declare if he has full confidence in Mr Harris.

She told RTE’s Morning Ireland that the Minister’s revelation on RTE’s Prime Time last night he was first aware of the overrun on the national children’s hospital in August was evidence of his policy of “drip feeding information.”

The Minister rejected criticism about why the information hadn't been revealed in the Dáil or during the negotiations on the Budget and renewing the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

He said the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure were informed of the situation 'at the appropriate moment' in November. He added that his department had been 'seeking to engage' with the Department of Public Expenditure in September and October.

Mr Harris said he believed he had behaved entirely appropriately and that it was clear that he retained the confidence of the Taoiseach. He didn't accept that he'd withheld information from the Dáil.

He said a collective decision had been made to proceed with the project adding that delaying the hospital or retendering it would have cost more money. He added that the hospital board refused the €200m requested by the contractor.

Ms O’Reilly questioned why the Minister for Health did not flag the issue of the cost over run to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform at an earlier stage.

“He was meeting Paschal Donohoe on a regular basis in the run up to the Budget, he should have flagged it. He should have indicated to the Minister for Finance that there was a serious over run, after all he holds the purse strings.

“For ten and a half weeks he kept that information, he didn’t share it with colleagues.”

She said the Minister had mislead the Dáil, withheld information and had not answered questions, so his position was untenable.

“Fianna Fáil have to come out and express confidence in this Minister, they have to let us know their position, they were not told during Budget negotiations. We need to know if Fianna Fáil have full confidence in the Minister.”

Ms O’Reilly accused the Minister of “drip feeding” information and revealing details to journalists before informing Dáil colleagues. “That’s not acceptable.”

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