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Harney leads exodus with €310,000 payoff

Health Minister Mary Harney dramatically resigned last night and is now in line for a €310,000 pension payoff.

As her resignation brought closer a major cabinet re-shuffle, Sport and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin clung on to her post and will escape the axe despite voting against Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the confidence ballot.

Following the departure of former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin -- and now Ms Harney -- Mr Cowen is being urged to bring in new blood and freshen up the FF line up ahead of the general election.

Last night, Ms Harney announced she was not contesting the forthcoming general election.

The former Tanaiste and PD leader also offered her resignation as Health Minister to Mr Cowen, which he accepted.

Given Mr Martin's departure, she said it would be appropriate to stand down.

Ms Harney will receive:

* An annual ministerial pension of about €69,200.

* A TD's pension of around €50,600 per year.

* A pension lump sum of around €160,000.

* A termination lump sum of around €17,000.

* And a year of monthly termination payments from the Oireachtas worth another €66,900.

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She will also get additional payments for serving as Tanaiste between 1997 and 2006 in the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat coalitions.

The €50,600 TD pension only kicks in once the monthly termination payments, paid the year immediately after retirement, have stopped.

The total package is at least €313,100 over the next year, whereas she would have received around €322,300 if he retired before the Budget.

But the Green Party is insisting the shake-up must not be used to delay the holding of the general election on March.

"It cannot in any way be a device to extend the lifetime of the Government," a spokesman for the Greens said last night.

And the caution shown by Mr Cowen in previous reshuffles, such as last year's botched effort, means Fianna Fail TDs are not holding out much hope.

There are also concerns the changes so close to a general election would be regarded as a cynical exercise by the public.


Mr Cowen is considering promoting anything up to 10 junior ministers and backbenchers who are in danger of losing their seats. The new ministers would only be in their new positions for two months.

Under a wider reshuffle, ministers Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey and Tony Killeen would also be dropped, along with junior minister Michael Finneran, who are all retiring at the general election.

Mr Ahern has also offered his resignation to Mr Cowen. The Justice Minister told the Taoiseach back in November that he was willing to stand down if required.

"Brian Cowen has had a post-dated cheque from Dermot Ahern since last November," a source said.

It is not yet clear if Mr Dempsey and Mr Killeen have made a similar offer.

Ms Hanafin finally revealed yesterday she had also voted against Mr Cowen in Tuesday night's motion of confidence.

Yet she did not offer to resign from cabinet, nor did the Taoiseach seek her resignation.

Ironically, Ms Hanafin is regarded as being safe, despite her bizarre double-speaking over the vote of confidence in the Taoiseach.

"I wouldn't see her as for the chop when trying to heal divisions. It would, I think, be seen as vindictive. She's going from being spoken about as a player to being irrelevant," a coalition source said.

In previous FF coalitions, ministers who were retiring either stood down or were forced to do so.

Mr Cowen has temporarily appointed himself as Foreign Affairs Minister "for the time being" and refused to be drawn on whether he would name a replacement.

Among the junior ministers being mentioned for promotion are Dara Calleary, Barry Andrews, Sean Connick, Dick Roche and Martin Mansergh.

Mr Cowen is thought to be looking to promote young TDs to the junior ministerial ranks, such as Darragh O'Brien, Michael McGrath, Thomas Byrne and Niall Collins.

Government Chief Whip John Curran will not be moved, given his crucial role in the final days of the Coalition.

But Mr Cowen has been warned by Green Party TD Paul Gogarty that it will not tolerate a "massive reshuffle".

Within Government circles, there was an acknowledgment the Taoiseach was definitely thinking about the reshuffle and the speculation was "not being killed off".

"Ministers are encouraging him to do it and its opportunity for him to do it. It's a straight swap. It freshens up the team. He certainly hasn't ruled it out," a source said.

The Greens and Fianna Fail had a meeting yesterday to discuss the timing of the election and the legislative timetable.

Mr Gormley said he believed the Finance Bill could be finished by the end of February and there should be an election in March.

But Mr Cowen did not offer any commitment to hold the general election within this timeframe.

"Everyone is aware of the importance of getting the Finance Bill through as quickly as possible," the Taoiseach's spokesman said.

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