Amid an unprecedented crisis in Irish hospitals and with the Dublin government staggering towards an inevitable election, a group of independent TDs have put down a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health Simon Harris.
Mr Harris has admitted the health service had no surge capacity for events such as the winter flu season.
The motion will be put down by the rural independents group, which includes a number who normally help to sustain Leo Varadkar in power.
An agreed collective position would mean a likely defeat for the minority government and could finally trigger the long-awaited election which has been the subject of speculation for months.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted on Thursday that his current numbers in the Dublin government are “precarious”.
The failure to deal with the trolley crisis has triggered the latest heave. The first week of the New Year has been the worst ever for hospital overcrowding. Some 3,143 patients went without beds during the week, as trolley numbers hit a new daily record of 760 on both Monday and Tuesday.
Cork South-West independence TD Michael Collins said the Minister had presided over a “major crisis in the health service” with elective surgeries being cancelled, a recruitment embargo, delayed discharges and the “highest ever” waiting lists. “Somebody must be accountable for all this,” he said.
Mr Healy-Rae compared the government to a car with no brakes and four bald tyres rolling down a hill. “This government’s race is finally ran.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has also called for Harris’s resignation for what he called his “shocking and dangerous mismanagement” of the Irish health service.
“Hundreds of thousands of Irish people are suffering pain, serious immobility and damaging long-term ill health as a direct result of the crumbling Irish health system and the confused maladministration of Simon Harris,” he said.
His party has collated a grim series of statistics which have charted the collapse of the Irish health service, including 1,000,000 Irish people on hospital waiting lists and 200,000 children waiting for treatment. The failure to progress medical education and training has left the 26 County state with the lowest number of medical specialists in the EU, with 500 consultant posts unfilled.
“Simon Harris’ term as Minister must come to an end now,” Mr Tóibín said. “It is time that he is held to account. It is time that TDs from all parties make it clear that patients and medical staff must be put first and that Simon Harris’ tenure in office is ended.”
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said the figures show Ireland’s beleaguered health service “continues to break records in the worst possible way”.
“The excuse that this is all down to the flu simply doesn’t hold. There are always extra patients in winter, but we simply do not get the extra capacity to cope. This is entirely predictable, yet we seemingly fail to deal with it every year,” she said.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams has described the government’s health strategy as “a shambles which is failing patients.”
“Behind these statistics are citizens, human beings, who are often frightened and concerned about their health and yet are forced to endure lengthy waits for hospital appointments or on hospital trolleys,” he said.
“While Minister Harris in Health, like Minister Murphy in Housing, are responsible for the crises in these two essential public services, both Ministers are implementing government policy – housing and health policies that are supported by Fianna Fáil.
“Urgent action is needed by Minister Harris to end the trolley crisis. This requires a crisis intervention package of measures, including increasing staff and bed capacity, lifting the recruitment embargo on frontline staff, expanding community care and moving ahead speedily with the Sláintecare reforms.”