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Harney dodges the press as calls for her to resign grow

Health Minister Mary Harney has gone to ground as calls for her resignation intensified today.

Minders went to extraordinary lengths to help her avoid local media in New Zealand, taking her out a side entrance at one function.

The Herald understands that Ms Harney requested help after pictures appeared of her in Auckland while the controversy over the 58,000 Tallaght Hospital x-rays raged here.

The Minister has refused to cut short her 15-day St Patrick's Day junket and has now enlisted the help of security personnel to avoid answering questions on the scandal.

One photographer covering the official visit said: "It appears that the Minister is going out of her way to keep a low profile."

Ms Harney had a number of meetings yesterday, but employed avoidance measures to give local journalists "the run around".

The tactic is extremely unusual for a government minister who would be accustomed to short media doorsteps while attending official functions overseas.

Photographer Michael Bradley told the Herald that representatives at Auckland Hospital which Ms Harney also visited told him that the “Irish delegation was not allowing any media to photograph her visit”.

At another function later, Ms Harney and her party “went through a side entrance to avoid the three waiting media”.


Fine Gael's Dr James Reilly told the Herald today that Ms Harney appears to be short on empathy for patients affected, adding: “She is sending out the wrong message.”

Local media are puzzled as to the inaccessibility of the Minister who is supposed to be representing Ireland as part of what Taoiseach Brian Cowen described as “a unique global platform and an opportunity to reflect on all that is best in our country.

“We are sending out a positive message about Ireland,” said Mr Cowen when announcing the trips.

But speaking this morning, Mr Bradley fumed: “We were given the run around again, she had security at the venue advising her and her people where photographers were, so she could slip out another entrance and get into her vehicle without being seen.”

Ms Harney is due to participate in Auckland's St Patrick's Day parade tomorrow and attend a festival banquet at the five-star Langham Hotel.

However, Mr Bradley said: “By the lengths the Minister went to today to avoid the media I would not be surprised if she did avoid the parade even though we have been told they will be there.”

Today, Fine Gael's Dr James Reilly again called on Ms Harney to show some empathy towards the people affected the scandal. While the Minister is effectively in hiding, Dr Reilly said, she should actually be booking a flight to Dublin.

“My view is that the Minister should come home. People say there is not a lot can be done, but people want to see her empathise. She is short on that.”

He added: “She should show enough concern to come home and manage the situation. It would send out a message, the right sort of message because at the moment she's sending the wrong message,” he said.