Harney defends decision to stay on for 'successful' 15-day trip
EMBATTLED Health Minister Mary Harney last night defended her decision to remain on a "successful" 15-day foreign trip during the Tallaght Hospital X-ray crisis.
Ms Harney arrived back from New Zealand and hit out at opposition parties who had demanded her resignation.
Everything possible was done to clear the 58,000 unchecked X-rays and thousands of unread GP letters while she dealt with the crisis from the far side of the world, she said.
The minister has been attending engagements in New Zealand with her husband Brian Geoghegan, the former FAS chairman, and three advisers. All went at the taxpayers' expense.
Despite opposition calls for her to be axed, Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to reappoint her in today's expected cabinet reshuffle.
"I was in touch every day and I'm satisfied that everything that could be done is being by Professor (Kevin) Conlon since he became CEO in December," Ms Harney said after touching down at Dublin Airport.
The minister, looking fresh, had travelled home via Sydney and Abu Dhabi.
A group of young people heckled her before she was whisked away in a state car.
The 15-day trip, which included hospital visits, business meetings and St Patrick's Day festivities, was described as "successful" by Ms Harney.
"I was on an official trip and a very important trip and I think you will find all the companies involved in tourism found it very productive and, of course, there is an Irish community who were very keen that we shouldn't forget them in New Zealand," she said.
"I will be in the office within the next hour and I have been in touch with them all in Tallaght, and indeed, Brendan Drumm and the head of my department. I can tell you, notwithstanding the fact that I was so far away, I wasn't very far from a phone call and virtually every day we were in communication," she said.
"I'm satisfied Maurice Hayes is going to do the inquiry and I'm satisfied that everything that can be done is being done''
While in New Zealand, Ms Harney faced a protest by members of the Irish community in Auckland who told her to "go home".
She also began libel proceedings against Newstalk radio station following claims made by journalist Nell McCafferty in an interview.