A no-confidence motion in Minister for Health Simon Harris has been defeated in a Dáil vote this evening.

The motion, tabled by Sinn Féin, was voted down by 58 votes to 53 with 37 abstentions.

Earlier, Sinn Féin's health spokesperson Louise Reilly told the Dáil that Mr Harris was out of his depth and not up to the job,

Opening the motion, she said there was not a "snowballs’ chance in hell" that her party could have confidence in Mr Harris after his handling of the National Children's Hospital and a number of other issues.

She also directed her criticism at what she called the "opportunistic cowards in Fianna Fáil" who abstained in today's vote because of its agreement to facilitate the minority government. 

Ms O'Reilly said: "It is incompetence and lack of ability that bring us here today. Past performance is an indicator of future performance and your past performance makes me certain that you are not up to the job of being minister for health, you are out of your depth."

She said the hospital cost overrun materialised "under your watch and under your nose" but that the role of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as former health minister "cannot be ignored".

She said Mr Varadkar "agreed to the doomed two stage procurement strategy just for political expediency so that he or another Fine Gael Minister could cut the ribbon".

"All of the available evidence pointed out that we would be where we are today. And yet Mr Varadkar, a politician who governs by optics, took the decision so the ribbon could be cut early. He didn't do this for the children of the State, he did this for himself and Fine Gael," Ms O'Reilly said.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald launched a stinging attack on Fianna Fáil for abstaining on the vote, saying the confidence and supply arrangement had "undermined and discredited the political process".

She accused Fianna Fáil of abdicating responsibility and betraying the electorate.

"The simple fact is the minister is incapable of doing his job, and yet he remains in office. He believes he is untouchable," she said.

"Sleeveen politics is now the order of the day. This is a coalition in all but name."

She said it was never "in the national interest to keep a failing minister in place".  

"An abstention is a confidence vote in the minister and a con trick on the people. And unfortunately this evening we will witness political cowardice and hypocrisy of the highest and unparalleled order," she added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of being "trigger happy" with no-confidence motions, as the party tabled its sixth such motion in three years.

He said Minister Harris is "the minister for getting things done" including the Eighth Amendment referendum, Public Alcohol Act and three hospitals under construction.

Mr Varadkar said: "Even in the toughest of areas, like the number of patients on trolleys, he has made measurable progress. While still far too many, this year so far it's at its lowest in four years."

He said Mr Harris had handled "difficult and emotive issues" such as the CervicalCheck controversy with "utmost sensitivity".

The Taoiseach said he also had confidence in the National Children's Hospital project and in Project Ireland 2020.

"One year after its launch, we have many projects coming in on time and on budget, we have shovels in the ground and the work is being done," he said.

He said accountability at its most simple is about taking responsibility for your actions.

"Accountability is not 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 and does not provide solutions," he said.

Minister Simon Harris hit back at Sinn Féin telling Ms McDonald that they had added "the soap box and the no-confidence motion" to the "ballot box and the armalite".

Mr Harris said the work on the Eighth Amendment was an example of what could be achieved when the Dáil works together.

"Devoid of ideas, their contribution to this chamber can be best measured in decibels," Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris also pledged to build the National Children's Hospital and that he would would get to the bottom of what wrong.

Donnelly defends Fianna Fáil position

Fianna Fáil's Health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly defended his party's decision to abstain on the vote, telling the Dáil that to do otherwise would trigger a general election. 

Mr Donnelly said that Fianna Fáil did not have confidence in the Government when it comes to health, saying it had "lost control".

He said they would not be voting confidence in the minister, but to collapse the Government would mean no Irish parliament in the closing weeks of Brexit.

He accused Sinn Féin of being "the best friends the Brexiteers have ever had".

"Because of Sinn Féin the only political voice from Northern Ireland being heard in Westminster is the DUP, because of Sinn Féin the people of Northern Ireland have no directly elected political voice in Belfast. And now, weeks before the Brexit deadline, Sinn Féin would like to complete their hat-trick and collapse the Dáil as well," he said.

His party colleague John McGuinness called for an "orderly wind-down" of the Government.

He said many in Fianna Fáil want to pull the plug on the confidence and supply deal, which his party leader has decided cannot happen with the uncertainty around Brexit.

Mr McGuinness said: "Brexit or no Brexit, regardless of how it turns out, this debate is quite clearly putting the Government on notice - notice to quit."

He said the motion in the minister should instead be a motion of no-confidence in the Government itself.

"There are those of us in this party in this side of the house and indeed in the ranks and in the general public, that want us to pull the plug. I want to ask you in the face of Brexit to have an orderly wind-down of your Government, you are a total failure in what you have done, a total failure," Mr McGuinness said.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said they would be supporting the motion because of a failure among Fine Gael politicians to protect the health service for sick and vulnerable people.

Mr Barrett said there was an complete inability to manage the finances in the health service, which he said was coming to a head in the "debacle" around the National Children's Hospital.

Independent TD Clare Daly said that Minister Harris was not the only one to blame for the overrun in the National Children's Hospital, but that he was the man at the helm. 

She said the hospital's cost overrun would go down as one of the 'biggest scandals in the history of the State".

She said if the right questions were asked it was possible to re-tender the project and to get justice for taxpayers.  

Labour's Health Spokesman Alan Kelly said his party would be supporting the motion because it did not have confidence in the Government and the political situation had become "intolerable".

He told Mr Harris that this was "not personal" and that he regarded him as "fundamentally decent and competent".

Mr Kelly also sharply criticised the Government's handling the hospital project, telling Minister Harris it was not over yet.

He also told Mr Harris that he would survive today because of "political convenience", but added that "political management of healthcare in this country needs a complete overhaul for future generations".

Additional reporting: Aisling Kenny, Edel McAllister