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Mary Harney (born 11 March 1953) is an Irishmarker politician and is the current Minister for Health and Children. She is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin Mid West constituency and served as Tánaiste from 1997–2006, and as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 1997–2004.

She was previously leader of the Progressive Democrats between 1993–2006 and from 2007–08. She resumed her role as leader in 2007 after her successor Michael McDowell lost his seat in the 2007 general election. She is the longest ever serving female member of Dáil Éireann.

Early and private life

Mary Harney was born in Ballinasloemarker, County Galwaymarker in 1953. Her parents, who lived in nearby Ahascragh, were both farmers but her family moved to Newcastle, County Dublinmarker shortly after her birth. She was educated at the Convent of Mercy, Inchicoremarker and Presentation Convent, Clondalkinmarker before studying at Trinity College, Dublinmarker.

During her time at university she made history by becoming the first female auditor of the College Historical Society. In 1976 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Studies and for a brief time was a secondary school teacher at Castleknock Collegemarker in Dublin.

In November 2001 Harney married Brian Geoghegan, a business leader, in a low-key afternoon ceremony in Dublinmarker on a day in which she attended to a number of other significant political meetings.

Fianna Fáil

She came to the attention of Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch and stood unsuccessfully as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the 1977 general election. She was then appointed to Seanad Éireann by Lynch who had become Taoiseach.



In 1979 Harney had her first electoral success when she was elected to Dublin County Council. Two years later she was successfully elected to the Dáil at the 1981 general election for Dublin South West.
 She has retained her seat at every election since then. Like many others in Fianna Fáil, Harney faced a number of problems from party leader Charles Haughey. As a leading member of the so-called Gang of 22, she was expelled from the party after voting in favour of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.


Progressive Democrats

Harney went on to become a founder-member of the Progressive Democrats with Desmond O'Malley and Bobby Molloy in December 1985. Many other disaffected TDs followed suit. The new political party put the economic recovery of the country at the top of their political priorities.

In 1989 the Progressive Democrats entered into a coalition government with Haughey's Fianna Fáil party. Harney was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Environmental Protection. As Minister of State she legislated to ban the sale of bituminous coal in Dublinmarker, thereby eliminating smog from the city. She served in this position until the party withdrew from government in late 1992. In February 1993 Harney was appointed Deputy leader of the Progressive Democrats and succeeded O'Malley as party leader in October of that year.

In government

Following the 1997 general election and lengthy negotiations the Progressive Democrats entered into coalition government with Fianna Fáil. Harney was appointed the first female Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Following the 2002 general election Harney led the Progressive Democrats, who had doubled their seats from four to eight, back into coalition with Fianna Fáil, the first time a government had been re-elected since 1969. She was re-appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment but was reported in 2003 as seeking a change. In a government reshuffle on 29 September 2004, she was appointed Minister for Health and Children.

Harney was Ireland's representative to the European Council of Ministers for the Software Patents Directive. Since the Council's first reading fell during the Irish Presidency of the European Council, she was chair of the meeting that discarded the amendments by the European Parliamentmarker which confirmed the exclusion of software innovations from what constitutes patentable subject matter.

In December 2001, Harney used a Government plane which was 50% funded by the European Commissionmarker to travel to County Leitrimmarker to open a friend's off-licence in Manorhamiltonmarker. Harney later apologised for having abused her position in using the plane for non government business and admitted that using the plane was wrong. The aircraft was to be used 90% of the time exclusively for maritime surveillance.

In May 2006, the Irish Nurses Organisation unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Mary Harney, accusing her of being negative and antagonistic towards nurses.
 Her policy of transferring private beds in public hospitals to privately operated hospitals has also attracted criticism.


In March 2006, 16 months after she took office as health minister, the INO claimed that a record number of 455 people were waiting on hospital trolleys on one day (although the Health Service Executive gave a figure of 363 people waiting on hospital trolleys for the same day).
 In June 2006, the Health Consumer Powerhouse ranked the Irish health service as the second least "consumer-friendly" in the European Union and Switzerland, coming 25th out of 26 countries, ahead of only Lithuania.
 However in the same survey conducted a year later, the Irish health service showed significant improvement, coming 16th out of 29 countries. Ireland even scored higher than Britain's NHS which came 17th in the survey.


In July 2006, Ireland on Sunday reported that Mary Harney's mother, Mrs Sarah Harney, jumped a queue of two emergency cases to receive hip surgery at The Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Tallaghtmarker. The allegation was strongly denied by the minister. Sixty percent of respondents to an Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll in December 2006 said that the appointment of Harney to the position of Minister for Health had not led to any improvement in the health service. Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Harney's own Progressive Democrats supporters were those who expressed most satisfaction with people in Dublin also feeling most dissatisfaction regionally. Harney rejected criticisms from Fine Gael during the same month that there had been a 25% increase in people waiting on trolleys in regional hospitals during the past two years; she claimed Health Service Executive statistics showed otherwise.

In 2006, in her capacity as Minister for Health, Mary Harney introduced risk equalisation into the Irish healthcare market. This was hugely resisted by Bupa. However, despite High Court proceedings, the controversial law was upheld. This has forced Bupa out of the Irish healthcare market (Bupa Ireland was since bought by the Irish owned Quinn Group, averting any fear of redundancies). In January 2007, a leaked memo said that the planned Cancer Care Strategy, due for completion in 2011, would not be delivered on time. Harney denied this and said that since the leaking of the memo there had been much progress, although she did not elaborate. The plan was to allow for nationwide radiotherapy services by 2011.

In 2009, Ireland's ranking in the Euro Health Consumer Index rose to 13th place.

Resignation as party leader

On 7 September 2006 Mary Harney announced that she was resigning as leader of the Progressive Democrats and that she would remain leader until a successor was chosen. She said she wanted to continue as Minister for Health but stated that it was a matter for her successor and the Taoiseach. She was succeeded by then Justice Minister Michael McDowell after Tom Parlon and backbencher Liz O'Donnell nominated him. Parlon became party president and O'Donnell Deputy Leader in an agreement with McDowell after much speculation that the pair would also seek the leadership.

2007 election aftermath

Following the poor performance of the Progressive Democrats at the 2007 general election in which the party lost 6 of its 8 seats, including that of party leader Michael McDowell, Harney resumed her role as party leader. The Progressive Democrats' rules at the time stipulated that the leader of the party must be a TD, and since Harney was one of only two remaining TDs, she resumed the leadership in a caretaker capacity. Following a rule change that broadened the eligibility she was succeeded by Senator Ciarán Cannon as party leader on 17 April 2008.

When the Progressive Democrats voted to disband in November 2008, Harney said she would remain as an independent TD once the party was wound up.

Death threat 2008

Letters containing death threats and shotgun cartridges, from a group calling itself the Irish Citizens Defense Force, were mailed to Harney, Micheál Martin, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and to officials at two prominent Dublinmarker fertility clinics on 29 February 2008.

FÁS expenditure controversy

It emerged in November 2008, that Harney in 2004 personally requested the use of the Government jet for a FÁS trip to Florida at a cost of up to €80,000 to taxpayers. She travelled to Florida with senior FÁS executives, department officials, and her husband, Brian Geoghegan, was receiving more than €100-a-day subsistence money from the taxpayer when FÁS picked up her hairdressing bill in a Florida hotel. Like all government ministers travelling abroad, she was entitled to a daily allowance for "incidental expenses".

In a RTÉmarker Radio 1 interview on 27 November 2008, Fianna Fáil TD Mary O'Rourke described Harney's involvement in the scandal as "a load of hoo-hah". On 28 November 2008 Harney defended her use of expenses while on a FÁS trip to the US, saying that she was "not on holiday", had not used public taxes for her own personal grooming, said the use of the government jet for the trip was made by the Taoiseach, and had followed advice in claiming her expenses. She acknowledged meeting a relative for an hour while in the United States. The Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore told his party conference that Harney should resign because of her performance as Minister for Health.

Footnotes

  1. Moving to the new Dublin Mid West constituency at the 2002 general election when it was created from part of Dublin South West.
  2. At a time when Ireland held the rotating Presidency of the European Union
  3. Aircraft was 50% funded by European Union, whose intervention forced Harney to apologise.
  4. There have also been questions raised about the conflict of interest between her former party's policy of privatising the Irish health service and determining treatment on the ability of patient to pay, which she has vigorously pursued, and that of the role of her husband, and former colleagues from the Progressive Democrats, in their employ of various US pharmaceutical firms who have benefited, and continue to do so, from the privatisation agenda pushed through by the minister. In effect, her policies are directly financially benefiting both her husband and some of her former party colleagues, as well as the organisations that employ them.


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