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Catcalls greet Harney's exit after 37 years in political life

SHE left the stage yesterday after 37 years in politics, but catcalls, not cheers, greeted Mary Harney's departure as Health Minister.

As she defended her exit from the shattered hulk of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's Cabinet, Ms Harney tried to sound as if it was all somehow beneath her yesterday.

"Put aside your cynicism," she urged young people, on a day it was revealed that 1,000 people are emigrating every week.

"It's a hard life," she told RTE's 'Morning Ireland', when asked about her time in politics.

"It invades your privacy," added Ms Harney, who is set to collect a €310,000 pay-off and at least €120,000 a year from the public purse.

She was accused of quite literally walking off the job as new figures yesterday showed 383 people languishing on hospital trolleys and the VHI continued to shed those who cannot afford new premiums.

As anger grew over the seemingly co-ordinated exit of cabinet ministers, Ms Harney reflected on her political career.

But instead of plaudits ringing in her ears, the 57-year-old was retiring to the sound of critics savaging her record.

Mr Cowen said Ms Harney had advanced a strategic approach to tackling the problems in the health services.

"She has done a first-class job and shown extraordinary endurance and intelligence in dealing with a most challenging portfolio," he told silent TDs.

But the voices of many other ordinary people were scathing.

The family of cancer misdiagnosis victim Susie Long said Ms Harney left a legacy of "broken promises".

"She is walking out of her job, having caused immense suffering for patients dependent on public health care," said her husband Conor MacLiam.

Ms Harney, in politics since 1977 when then-Taoiseach Jack Lynch plucked her from obscurity and made her a senator, told how she had first offered her resignation to Mr Cowen after Christmas.

She had intended her departure from health to be effective immediately, but Mr Cowen had told her "Hold on", and she was "very happy to agree to that".

Seemingly oblivious to the deep reservoirs of public anger over the political upheaval, Ms Harney spoke of the "talent" at Mr Cowen's disposal to fill all the positions being vacated.

Young people, she said, were the future. With almost 480,000 people on the dole, Ms Harney suggested some would enjoy politics.

"I would really appeal to young people to put aside the cynicism and all the negativity that's in the country.

"I don't mean to be arrogant or lecture people, but if there is anything Irish politics needs it is young people," she said.

And so, with her department in the caretaker hands of the Education Minister, Ms Harney departed the stage, her own economic future secure but her legacy looking more than a little ragged.

Irish Independent