Cowen faces FF pressure to drop Harney
HEALTH Minister Mary Harney's continued presence in the Cabinet is coming under pressure as the build-up continues to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's reshuffle.
Fianna Fail backbenchers are questioning why Ms Harney is being kept on in the Cabinet after the disappearance of her PD party and the lack of a commitment from her to run again at the next general election.
There is a belief within the party that Mr Cowen will create two more vacancies in the Cabinet by axing two long-serving ministers when he returns from his St Patrick's Day trip to the US in less than two weeks.
Those most under threat are Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith and Ms Harney.
A Fianna Fail TD questioned why she was still in the Cabinet, while another said: "I think we just need to get clarity on what her intentions are."
A spokesman for Ms Harney said last night that the membership of the Cabinet was a matter for Mr Cowen to decide. But he signalled that she wanted to continue in her post.
"Minister Harney has at all stages made clear she is fully committed to reforms in health and that absolutely remains her position," he said.
Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister Martin Cullen did not attend yesterday's cabinet meeting and his resignation is expected to be passed on to President Mary McAleese by Mr Cowen when he decides on his cabinet reshuffle.
It came amid reports that Green Party leader John Gormley confirmed the existence of a rotation agreement at the Green's National Executive Council meeting on Saturday last, and that the decision on what to do next has been left up to him.
It was claimed that in 2007 a deal was done that in a mid-term reshuffle of the Government Mr Gormley would take a junior minister's job and allow for Dun Laoghaire TD Ciaran Cuffe to take up the cabinet job.
But a Green Party spokesman refused to comment last night, saying that he "would not add to the speculation". However, he confirmed Mr Gormley was having discussions with Mr Cowen about the cabinet reshuffle.
The Green Party has also refused to say if it is seeking a "super junior" ministry which would allow Mr Gormley to hand over his job as Environment Minister to Mr Cuffe and still remain at the cabinet table.