Former Fianna Fáil Minister Brian Cowen once described his time in charge of Health in the Republic as being like Angola “just when you’ve cleared one land mine another goes off”. The name has stuck to that department and for good reason.
For a few weeks now the National Children’s Hospital story has been rumbling. It is one of escalating costs in a project that was first mooted in the early 60s but which government has been actively considering since the early naughties.
The controversy has two aspects. One, the 2015 estimate of €650m has risen to approx €1.7 billion. Two, the Health Minister Simon Harris knew last August but didn’t tell Fianna Fáil until after negotiations for its last budget under Confidence and Supply.
From early summer (ie, before Harris knew the preliminary figures for the NCH) the Taoiseach was pushing Micheál Martin hard to re-sign an agreement before the budget and well ahead of the end of the year. At the time, Martin pushed back just as hard.
Yesterday, at the behest of Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen and Labour’s Health Spokesman Alan Kelly, Simon Harris came to the Dáil to set the record straight. This morning, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Pascal Donohoe confessed his role.
Both men poured cold water on calls for Harris to resign, with Fianna Fáil pointing out that if they were to join in a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Harris arguing that the government would fall in the crucial final phase of Brexit negotiations.
A suggestion which has brought derision from many quarters in the south, drawing attention to Sinn Féin’s role in collapsing government in Northern Ireland for the duration of the Brexit negotiation process.
Contrast the mordant politics of Northern Ireland and the frenetic, fast-moving and highly unpredictable combat in the south. It could not be starker. Meanwhile, the fabled road to Derry (not being built on the NI side) is to be cut to pay for the NCH shortfalls.
Will anyone notice? Strabane man and the SDLP’s new Brexit spokesman Daniel McCrossan certainly did…
…having no Stormont in place is the reason why this funding has been withheld. The Irish Government can see the ridiculousness of the two problem parties who are holding us back. The failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP to end their self-imposed standoff is hurting our communities, north and south, and it needs to end.
“This money was originally cut from £400 million to £75 million for the scheme. Now it is being withheld. Dublin cannot continue to abandon the people of the North and that is the message I will be giving to them.
Hmmm… Health and roads have always been intimately tied in the south (as in “I don’t want to die on the road to Galway hospital”), but it is interesting to see it having knock-on effects in Northern Ireland if only courtesy of that Stormont hiatus.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty