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Harney staying put

MARY HARNEY has refused to cut her 15-day junket to New Zealand as the x-ray scandal grows.

The Opposition has called for the Minister to get home now and deal with the emerging crisis which has affected 58,000 people.

The Health Minister is currently in Auckland on a two week 5-star junket with her husband Brian Geoghegan and three aides, as details of the blunder at Tallaght Hospital continue to emerge.

And despite photographs of her today basking in the sunshine, Taoiseach Brian Cowen claimed that Ms Harney is “absolutely committed” to her job.

Fine Gael Health spokesperson Dr James Reilly said: “I think anybody who is right-minded would think that she should be on a plane back dealing with this crisis.

“This is the worst scandal of all the scandals. More than 57,000 people have been affected by this ... and she is away in New Zealand.”

When Ms Harney does return, her days would appear to be numbered. The Herald can reveal that she will face a Dail motion of no confidence if Taoiseach Brian Cowen reappoints her to Health.

Mr Cowen will announce a Cabinet reshuffle shortly but Fine Gael's Dr James Reilly insisted today Ms Harney should not retain her portfolio.

"I've made it very clear that if he reappoints her to health we will table a motion of no confidence," he said.

Ms Harney has refused to cut short a 15-day junket to New Zealand, despite the growing controversy over radiology practices at Tallaght Hospital.

Dr Reilly claimed she could have got a scheduled flight yesterday and she would be back in Ireland today to explain her position in the Dail.

"Clearly this is a minister who isn't interested, she's detached," he added.

"This is one scandal too many. Let's remind ourselves what she has presided over -- Portlaoise, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Ennis and now Tallaght," he said.

Ms Harney and her husband Brian Geoghegan flew out on March 6 and were guests in plush hotels, like the Stamford Plaza in Auckland.

They were accompanied by her special advisor, her private secretary and the deputy chief medical officer of her department.


Mr Geoghegan is travelling in an official capacity as Ms Harney's spouse so his expenses are being met by taxpayers.

The minister remained 18,500 kilometres away as tens of thousands of patients found out their X-rays had not been reviewed by a consultant radiologist.

The group flew premium-economy class rather than first class, with flights costing an estimated €8,000 for all five members.

The jaunt involved being met on arrival at Auckland Airport by Rodney Walshe, Honorary Consul General of Ireland.

Ms Harney's itinerary involves dinners with members of the Irish community and clients of Enterprise Ireland.

On March 13, she will be the guest of honour at the St Patrick's festival banquet at the Langham Hotel in Auckland, which will also be attended by the New Zealand prime minister John Key.

However, she will no doubt point to a series of meetings with medical specialists and a number of hospital visits as proof of the worth of the trip.

On St Patrick's Day itself, the Minister and her husband will attend a consular reception with 200 guests, including a representative of the New Zealand prime minister, mayors, the chairman of the Auckland Regional Council and the Dean of the Auckland Consular Corps.