He was the standout story from the 2016 General Election in Clare but Dr Michael Harty has confirmed he will not be seeking re-election to Dáil Éireann.
Elected under the ‘No Doctor No Village’ platform, the Independent TD announced on Monday that he was leaving Leinster House for good. Politics was not what he expected, Michael told The Clare Echo. “I wasn’t prepared for the inertia within the political system, it is very hard to change not only the way Ministers think but also their civil servants, I found it very frustrating.
“It was invigorating to be in the buzz of Leinster House being at the centre of where change was possible, when you looked at how difficult it was to bring change it was very frustrating. I did support Enda Kenny in the first two years of this Government but when there was a change of leadership, access to Government became much more difficult, I’m partially responsible to that because I didn’t vote for Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach I abstained, I did vote against Simon Harris out of complete frustration at the way the health service was going and I did vote against Eoghan Murphy in relation to housing, that has political consequences because if you’re outside the tent it is very hard to get access and that was one of the disappointing things once you came with a good idea or a good suggestion you didn’t get a fair hearing”.
Struggling to find full-time locum cover for his practice in Kilmihil prompted the GP to withdraw his name from the ballot paper. “When an election was looming it became obvious I couldn’t stand for re-election knowing if which was a big if I was elected, that I couldn’t continue and I would have to make a choice between being a TD and giving up the practice, I couldn’t do both. Because I came from a no doctor no village background and the sustainability of medical services in rural Ireland even though it expanded into many issues in relation to the sustainability of rural Ireland if I was to choose politics over my practice it would be betraying the principle of standing for election to maintain election to maintain medical services. The likelihood of a doctor coming to Kilmihil under present circumstances of contractual arrangements was going to be small, the choice was stark either full-time politics and abandon the practice or go back into practice, I chose to go back into practice”.
Though content with the decision, Michael is adamant “I still felt I had a lot to offer in politics, there was a lot of unfinished business that I had started but hadn’t completed”. He would have liked to continue pushing the promotion of Sláintecare, advocating for a European hub for Shannon Airport in Frankfurt or Amsterdam, pushing proposals he made on rural resettlement and trying to tackle regional development.
Close to 700 GPs are “within touching distance of retirement”, he is critical Health Minister Simon Harris “never accepted there was a problem, consequently the problem still exists thereby my necessity to return to practice”. He added, “One of the regrets I did have was that I didn’t convince the Minister for Health that there is a huge difficulty in rural practices and their sustainability, it’s not just rural anymore when you look at what has happened in Newmarket-on-Fergus, that is replicated right across the country in large towns that are having difficulty recruiting GPs to replace those who retire, emigrate or unfortunately pass away”.
Approaches were made by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party for Harty to join their ranks in the last two years, the invitation from the Greens being the one he considered most. “I’ve seen people who joined parties from the Independent ranks and they tend to be seen as poster boys parachuted into an organisation that really isn’t accepting of them but would love to win their seat. I wouldn’t have been elected to the Dáil in 2016 if I was a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael candidate, I was elected because I was an Independent and I was betraying those voters if mid-stream I jumped ship and became a party member for the sake of enhancing my chances of getting re-elected, I felt it was an obligation of me to remain Independent”.
“If I knew what I know now in 2016 I would have acted differently, I would be more forceful on this occasion, I have a lot to offer particularly in the health sector and I would seek to be in Government because I realise now outside Government you can talk, propose and suggest but unless you get a receptive ear you are really struggling to have your point of view implemented”.
By the time the February 8th election comes around, Michael will return to the his practice in Kilmihil which has 1,500 patients. “It was a great privilege and an honour to be a TD, I never underestimated that honour and I hope by not standing I haven’t let anyone down”.