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Confidence in the Minister for Health: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] If the Deputies in Sinn Féin had any real experience of running a country, Department, large organisation or even small business, they would not be so trigger happy with their no-confidence motions. This is the sixth in half as many years.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien And four of them are gone.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have confidence in the Minister for Health for many reasons. He is getting things done, including a successful referendum on the eighth amendment, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act and, after years of little investment, three national hospital projects under construction with a fourth due to go to tender in the foreseeable future. Free GP care has been extended to all carers and medical cards have been provided to all children with a severe disability, regardless of their parents' incomes. The HPV vaccine for boys and improved patient outcomes in cancer, stroke, heart attack and cystic fibrosis are other developments. Even in the toughest areas, such as the number of patients on trolleys, the Minister has made measurable progress. While there are still far too many, the number is at its lowest in three years in 2019 thus far. In January, the number of patients waiting more than three months for an operation or procedure - the Sláintecare target - was at a four-year low. While we have lost some ground due to the recent strikes, we will regain it. The Minister has handled difficult and emotive issues, such CervicalCheck or securing funding for cystic fibrosis treatments like Orkambi, with the utmost sensitivity. He invests enormous time and energy into gaining the confidence of patient representatives and, if supported, there is much more he can do in his post.

I also have confidence in the national children's hospital project. Major errors were made in calculating the true cost of building a hospital of this scale and complexity and, as Head of Government, I take collective and personal responsibility for that. However, I do not accept that it is wasteful expenditure. It is a project which is well under way. The first phase involving the satellite centre in Blanchardstown will open to patients this year while the satellite centre in Tallaght will begin construction this year and open in 2020. At the St. James's site in Dublin 8, stage 1 is almost complete and stage 2 has commenced. After decades of promises and false starts, the children's hospital is finally being delivered. Of course, we will do all we can to ensure the project gets back on track and is delivered on time and in line with the revised budget. We will work to ensure the hospital is commissioned no later than 2023.

I also have confidence in Project Ireland 2040. One year after its launch, many projects are coming in on time and on budget. Shovels are in the ground and the work is being done. All over the country, one sees the vision of Project Ireland 2040 being realised. Last week, we turned the sod on the new runway at Dublin Airport, which is our gateway to the world. The runway was promised for decades but it is now under construction.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis Will that take long?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar On Friday, I will be in Sligo for the sod-turning to mark the construction of the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin road, another project which was promised for decades and is now under construction. The same story can be told in every county. Taxpayers' money is being well spent on investments in the future. Only last week, €64 million was allocated to towns and rural areas.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath They are being closed down.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Schools, community nursing units, third level institutions, primary care centres, tourism projects and sporting facilities are being funded.

We hear a great deal about accountability in the House. At its simplest, accountability is about taking responsibility and answering for one's actions. Accountability does not mean giving in to the baying mob, the thirst for bloodletting and a head on a plate every other day. A baying mob does not provide answers or solutions.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady That is a terrible thing to call the public - a baying mob.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We saw that in November 2017 when Sinn Féin put down a motion of no confidence in the then Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, accusing her of being at the centre of a scandal. Sinn Féin made false claims that were subsequently discredited, yet we have had no apology from its members for that.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy No apology.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It was also true when Sinn Féin tried to weaponise homelessness and personalise the debates around housing against the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. It was true when Sinn Féin Deputies made false claims in the House about former Members having offshore bank accounts. Again, there has yet to be any retraction or apology for those false claims. We are seeing more of that practice from the Sinn Féin Party again today. It is easy and cowardly to throw rocks, but it takes courage to put one's reputation on the line and to build something lasting and better. Deputy Harris has the courage and the competence to succeed as Minister for Health and he deserves our support.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Hear, hear.

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris On this very day last year, the House concluded statements on the report of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. That and all the work in between form an example of what we can achieve when the House works together. It is an example of how much more could be achieved if time in the House was better spent. Sinn Féin, however, does not change. To the ballot box and the Armalite, it has added the soap box and the no-confidence motion. Its stock in trade remains competitive anger and cultivated division. Devoid of ideas, its contribution to the Chamber can best be measured in decibels. It is no wonder that anyone expecting anything new of different from Deputy McDonald's leadership has already lost hope. I reject her politics of division. My politics is to deliver by working across parties, inside and outside the House. It is to work together.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald No, it is not.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Together, we repealed the eighth, passed the long-awaited Public Health (Alcohol) Act and made a massive difference in the lives of citizens with cystic fibrosis through access to new and innovative medicines. I am the first to acknowledge that there is a great deal more to do and I want to get on with that job. We are already working towards eradicating cervical cancer. Sinn Féin claims to speak for these people but truly it does not. It is our national aim to eradicate cervical cancer. This year, we will extend the HPV vaccination programme to boys. Our country is being watched internationally for our work on reversing the decline in the uptake of the HPV vaccine among girls. We can and will do more. We must bring to a conclusion talks with GPs on the delivery of new services and, more importantly, ensure their sustainability. We will move forward with the patient safety Bill to introduce mandatory open disclosure. We will overhaul our laws on organ donation to save more lives by replacing antiquated legislation with a new human tissue Bill. We will move forward with the assisted human reproduction Bill and get it passed this year to support families seeking to access IVF treatment. Most importantly, we are putting in place the plans and structures to take petty politics out of healthcare by implementing Sláintecare to transform our health service for once and for all.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Every deadline has been missed.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Government will build the national children's hospital after decades of debate and get to the bottom of what has gone wrong. We will ensure that lessons are learned. We will not walk away from this vital project, however. Sinn Féin walks away. It walked away from the health ministry in Northern Ireland when it held that position. Sinn Féin might quit but quitting is not in my DNA. Walking away is not an option.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady The Minister walked away from Fianna Fáil when he was in it.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I know Sinn Féin is used to gagging its opponents but we do not do that in here.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Deputy McDonald was also a member of Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Political accountability is about standing by one's decisions. It is about working day and night to deliver them. Leadership is about sticking with the job, even when the going gets tough and even when Sinn Féin tries to make it tougher. I accept both challenges.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Get going.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney As time is short, I will make just two points. The first is that I have worked with Deputy Harris around the Cabinet table for a number of years now. In many ways, he has the most difficult job in government. I have seen him fight for patients and those who need the health service to work. I have seen him deliver at budget time. Ireland is now spending more on healthcare than ever before. I have seen him bring people together on one of the most divisive political issues we have ever had to face and successfully pass a referendum proposal. I have seen him bring people together around an alcohol Bill and achieve the necessary compromises to get a majority in the House. I have seen him manage scandals with compassion, professionalism and unbelievable energy and dedication. I have seen the victims of those scandals praise him for it and wish him well in his future political career. I have seen him build cross-party support and consensus around the kind of future health reform we need in the context of Sláintecare. I have seen an extraordinary commitment from him as a politician and Minister for Health to making that happen. When I see political leaders like Deputy Howlin refer to Deputy Harris a week ago on radio as a capable and competent Minister only to come to the House today to vote against him, it reminds me of what party politics is sometimes about.

I refer secondly to the sponsors of the motion who are behaving true to form. Sinn Féin is about division. It is about targeting individuals for political ends, whether it involves the HSE, PSNI, gardaí, Ministers or others in the House.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady It is about holding people to account.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney This is its sixth no-confidence motion in less than three years. Instead of trying to work within the political system to make policy changes and progress and get real things done, Sinn Féin releases its keyboard warriors, placards and billboards with Ministers' faces on them. Let us look at what Sinn Féin is actually doing in a way that is consistent with its accusations. It accuses Fianna Fáil of political cowardice and an abdication of responsibility and talks about acting in the national interest. However, Sinn Féin is democratically elected to three parliaments.

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