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Harney’s the VIP toast of the town as HSE crisis rumbles on

IT WAS another day, another banquet for Health Minister Mary Harney in her grand tour of New Zealand today.

As the Minister continued to dodge questions on the x-ray scandal, which has so far left one person dead, Ms Harney was the toast of Wellington.

Ms Harney's 15-day junket to New Zealand moved to the Hutt Valley Irish Society in Wellington today, having spent all of her trip so far in Auckland.

Her 15-day junket Down Under has been dogged by the controversy over the non-reviewing of almost 58,000 x-rays at Tallaght Hospital. One person died and another is being treated with cancer after receiving delayed diagnoses.

Tallaght hospital also admitted nearly 3,500 GP referral letters remained unopened up until last October.

Ms Harney has pressed ahead with official engagements despite calls from the opposition for her to return to Ireland to deal with the debacle.

She hardly had time to recover from a lavish reception at the Langham Hotel in Auckland over the weekend before she was off to Wellington.

She met her counterpart, Hon Tony Ryall MP, who is the Health Minister in New Zealand. Mr Ryall hosted a dinner for Ms Harney today.

However, it was Saturday's St Patrick's festival event at the Langham which drew the crowds. On the menu were local delicacies such as shucked Waiheke oysters as well as champagne cocktails.

Ms Harney arrived at the banquet with a bandaged left arm. It is understood she told guests she sustained an injury before she left Ireland.

She enjoyed dinner with New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key and his wife Bronagh, whose parents were born in Co Armagh, and other New Zealanders with connections to the Irish community.

Guests paid $180 (€91) for the sought-after Green Tie tickets.

On arrival, attendees were able to choose between champagne and Guinness as well as Bushmills, Baileys and Kilkenny beer, which flowed all evening.

However, there was almost an embarrassing confrontation after a New Zealand reporter attempted to ask questions of Ms Harney.

The incident was swiftly dealt with by security.

Nevertheless, there was a fracas outside the front of the hotel as Ms Harney arrived.

A woman broke through the ranks to try to interview the minister as she was coming through the foyer, it was reported.

One eyewitness said: "She (the reporter) wanted to ask Minister Harney questions but her handler didn't like it and a fracas ensued."

Meanwhile, Health Service Executive chief Brendan Drumm said he was kept in the dark about the Tallaght hospital x-ray scandal for months by his own officials.

Prof Drumm said he only heard about the 58,000 x-rays unread by radiologists last Tuesday when the news emerged in the media.