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Mary Harney's last months as Minister: The Top 5 moments

A selection of Harney stories from her last few months in cabinet…

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

LAST NIGHT, MINISTER MARY Harney announced she would not contest the general election and was stepping down from cabinet.

Although her decision not to run in the general election is not totally unexpected, her resignation came as a surprise as she had not indicated she would resign from her post before the end of her term.

Harney has come under intense public and political pressure over the condition of the health service since taking the health portfolio in 2004.

Here are some of the most recent controversies associated with Harney, taken from her last few months in the cabinet:

1. Under fire

While attending public functions in November, Harney came under fire from angry protesters over the health service. Eggs and cheese were thrown at the minister’s car outside Nenagh General Hospital and she was spattered with red paint as she turned the sod on a new health centre in Dublin.

2. Trolleys

The number of people waiting for a hospital bed on a trolley hit a new single-day record this year, at a shocking 568, according to the Trolleycount run by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. The HSE released a short statement saying flu cases were adding to hospital backlogs.

In the Dáil a few days later, Harney said that although she was not blaming the flu for the number of people on trolleys, the increased number of infections was putting an extra strain on the health services.

3. Thalidomide

A week before Christmas, a group of Thalidomide survivors said they would lodge legal action against Mary Harney following her refusal to reconsider the compensation package offered by the state to the 32 people affected by the drug.

4. Staff pay

In mid-October, Fine Gael published figures it had obtained which showed that the HSE had spent €92m hiring staff from recruitment agencies the previous year. The health executive had hired agency staff and locum doctors because of an ongoing recruitment ban which means it cannot directly hire new staff.

5. Damning report

In November, the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly published a highly critical report which accused the government of showing a “disregard for the law” by depriving older people of the nursing home care she says they are entitled to under the 1970 Health Act.

Minister Harney rejected the report’s accusations, saying that the government’s “commitment to the improvement of services for older people has been evident in both the level of investment in services, and the focus on the introduction of the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal)”.

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