Radio station apologises for Nell's 'Harney smear' on air
A NATIONAL radio station was forced to issue a personal apology to Health Minister Mary Harney yesterday after damaging claims about her private life were made live on-air.
Ms Harney's absence from the country has been a source of intense controversy amid growing calls for her to return to deal with the X-ray scandal in Tallaght Hospital.
However, Newstalk radio station was forced to make an unreserved apology to Ms Harney after veteran journalist Nell McCafferty made damning personal comments about the minister on 'The Tom Dunne Show'.
Executives at the station immediately contacted Ms Harney's press secretary after the comments were aired.
"It shouldn't have happened. We don't support the comments that were made," Newstalk chief executive Frank Cronin told the Irish Independent.
"It was inappropriate and we issued an apology on-air to the minister.
"Ms Harney's press secretary was contacted after it happened and an apology was made."
A government spokesman refused to comment on the incident last night.
However, sources close to Ms Harney expressed outrage at the remarks, saying they were both false in nature and derogatory.
Despite the furore, Ms McCafferty last night insisted she would not apologise to Ms Harney.
"I have nothing to add beyond what I have said. No, I won't apologise," she told the Irish Independent.
Ms Harney yesterday faced renewed calls for her to cut short her 15-day St Patrick's Day trip to New Zealand to deal with the deepening X-ray scandal at Tallaght Hospital.
Earlier this week it emerged that 58,000 X-rays -- taken between 2005 and the end of last year at the hospital -- were not reviewed by a consultant radiologist.
It led to delayed diagnoses for two patients, one of whom has died.
It has since been claimed that thousands of letters from GPs referring patients to the hospital for treatment were also not opened.
However, Ms Harney has insisted she will not interrupt her trip to the other side of the world.
She left on Saturday and will not return until Sunday March 21, despite mounting calls for her resignation by patients and the opposition.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny yesterday said thousands of people were now fearing for their lives at revelations letters of referral were left unopened.
"The Minister for Health and Children will not return from New Zealand until March 22. This is another catastrophe," he said.
"Dr James Reilly, on behalf of the Fine Gael party, has already said that if the Taoiseach decides to reappoint (Ms Harney) we will move a motion of no confidence against her."
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said Ms Harney had failed to transfer her responsibilities to another person in Cabinet while she was away to allow the matter to be dealt with.
"It is not acceptable to the opposition that the Dail will be closed down now until March 23, that no answers can be given about what went on and that no minister is held accountable," he said.
Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said if the host people in New Zealand were aware of the backdrop to Ms Harney's presence in the country, they would be incredulous she was there.
"They would never tolerate a similar situation," he said.
"The minister should be recalled. There can be no other answer in this situation."
The minister's continued absence also drew criticism from government backbenchers.
"She should come back early, there's no doubt about that," Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke told Today FM.
"Once she has overseen the St Patrick's Day parade and the dinner that night and whatever else leads up to that, she should come home and acquaint herself fully of all the facts."