Fianna Fail has been forced to threaten parliamentary backbenchers with expulsion in an effort to win the no-confidence vote on the 26-County Minister for Health, Mary Harney today [Wednesday].
“The consequences of not attending and not voting are clear to everyone,” the party said, following a call from senior Fianna Fail TD Ned O’Keeffe for Harney to resign.
Harney has become the focus of a mounting scandal over negligence and incompetence in the management of the 26-County health service, even as the State has enjoyed huge budget surpluses.
The latest scandal involves the mis-diagnosis of hundreds of women in the Irish midlands who underwent x-ray examinations for breast cancer in recent years -- even after the problem had been brought to the attention of Ms Harney and senior officials in the Department of Health.
The crisis has coincided with reports which have exposed low standards in Irish hospitals, including poor hygience and overcrowding.
Information about the scale of the radiography failure has emerged in only a piecemeal fashion, and typically accompanied by vigorous denials of knowledge or responsibility by both Ms Harney and the state’s most senior civil servant in Health, Brendan Drumm.
Of hundreds of potential victims, only nine women who were wrongly given the all-clear at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise after being screened for breast cancer have so far been identified.
One Kildare mother of four, who has undergone breast surgery in recent weeks after her misdiagnosis was discovered during a review of the Portlaoise mammograms, said she had “no faith” in Ms Harney.
“I don’t think she has a clue how to run the system. I know she didn’t do the mammograms but after the way she has handled this whole situation I really do think she should step down,” she said.
Preparing to undergo chemotherapy next week, the woman said she would never forget the nightmare of telling her children.
“I’d love Mary Harney to step into my shoes for the last couple of weeks to see what it’s like for me and my family,” she added.
Her husband, she said, was very angry and had phoned Ms Harney’s office a number of times. He left messages but none of his calls were returned. He was angry, she said, that her treatment should possibly have begun more than a year earlier.
Although her Progressive Democrats was decimated in the 26-County general election in May, Harney and her party were recalled into coalition government by their longterm partners, Fianna Fail, alongside the Green Party.
The findings of a review of the Portlaoise cancer cases has still not been revealed, despite a demand by the opposition parties that it should be shared ahead of the no-confidence debate.
Fianna Fail’s most prominent rebel, Ned Mr O’Keeffe, said: “I think Mary Harney should resign. This is a more serious issue. It’s a matter of life and death [ that] is involved for many unfortunate female persons across the island of Ireland.”
During the motion of no confidence, opposition speakers railed against Harney and the crisis in the health service.
“This has been one of the blackest chapters in the recent history of our public health service, made all the worse by the failure of those in political office to accept their responsibility for the pain, suffering and trauma caused to patients,” said Jan O’Sullivan of the Labour party.
Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghin O Caolain said there was no longer any public confidence in Ms Harney’s ability to serve as Health Minister.
“There is no public confidence in the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney and no public confidence in the policy and management of our health services by this Fianna Fail/Green/Progressive Democrats Government,” he said.
O Caolain challenged all TDs to register a vote of no confidence in Minister for Health Mary Harney tomorrow.
“I would say to them the time for talking out of both sides of your mouths has ended. You can no longer get away with one message for your constituents and another message for the Government you support. It is time to put up or shut up.
“It is also time to challenge the badge ‘independent’ which is worn so proudly by some Deputies.
“If you cannot support a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health and Children in these circumstances you will have lost any shred of credibility in calling yourselves ‘independent’. Take the opportunity to salvage that credibility and support the motion.”