By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Elaine Loughlin, and Evelyn Ring
Commuters, patients, farmers, and schools are bracing themselves for a potentially damaging fallout from the children’s hospital crisis as the Government today signs off on €100m of capital budget cuts to bring the scandal under control.
Transport will be hit by €30m, health by €50m, and six other departments by up to €3m each despite Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe claiming there will be “absolutely no cutbacks” as affected projects will only be delayed.
Under plans to cope with the scale of the scandal which has seen the children’s hospital budget predictions balloon to more than €2bn, Mr Donohoe will today tell Cabinet:
Health Minister Simon Harris will be worst affected, although Independent Alliance TDs Finian McGrath and John Halligan have both warned Fine Gael that their respective Beaumont Hospital cystic fibrosis unit and Waterford cath lab projects are “red-line” issues.
Independent Alliance TD and Transport Minister Shane Ross is set to lose out, with the €30m cut the second time in recent months he will be ordered to bail out the coalition following last October’s budget, when the hospitality sector VAT increase was strapped.
Speaking at Government Buildings last night, Mr Donohoe confirmed the €100m capital projects changes will be signed off by Cabinet today, but claimed no project will be “materially affected” and that while there will be delays there will be “absolutely no cutbacks”.
Meanwhile, renegade Fianna Fáil TDs are becoming increasingly frustrated with Micheál Martin for continuing to support the Government and refusing to back a motion of no-confidence in Mr Harris.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday confirmed her party will table the motion, saying Mr Harris “falls well short” of the accountability that is needed and that “the big question” is whether Fianna Fáil will push the health minister out.
However, while Fianna Fáil TDs have officially dismissed the tactic as an obvious bid to undermine their party, backbenchers warned they are now “being painted with the same brush as the Government” and that Mr Martin needs to act.
Mr Harris, who was targeted by protesters at his home with his wife and their baby daughter on Sunday, last night labelled the protest as “intimidation” and part of a growing “demonising” approach to public debate.
“The use of the word protest gives some legitimacy to what was plain and simple intimidation of my family, of my neighbours, and of my community,” he said.