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Mary's wave a world away from x-ray crisis

Here is Health Minister Mary Harney happily waving to St Patrick's Day revellers in New Zealand while controversy rages at home over the Tallaght Hospital X-ray scandal.

She was attending the Auckland's St Patrick's Day parade as part of her two-week trip there.

And she is expected to stay in New Zealand for at least one more week -- long after her St Patrick's Day duties are done and dusted -- at the taxpayers' expense.

The trip is the longest by any of the 23 ministers travelling abroad for St Patrick's Day.

Ms Harney attended the parade and toasted Irish ex-pats today in the presence of the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, as patients of Tallaght Hospital anxiously wait to hear news on whether their X-rays have been read at this stage by radiologists.


Her itinerary for today included leading the St Patrick's Day parade before attending a luxury banquet with Mr Key and his wife Bronagh, whose parents come from Armagh.

Ms Harney's itinerary said that she would "propose a toast to the Irish and the friends of the Irish in New Zealand".

The X-ray controversy has been picked up by the local media. The New Zealand Herald reported yesterday: "It's a brave politician who traipses halfway round the world while her political opponents are calling for her head and her job could be up for grabs in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle. But Irish Minister Mary Harney is no stranger to controversy."

Ms Harney has ignored calls for her immediate return to deal with the crisis surrounding the X-rays and GP referrals.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly has called on each hospital to make an immediate statement on whether they too have X-rays that have not been viewed by consultant radiologists.

"The CEO of each hospital in Ireland must now make a public statement confirming there are no X-rays unreported by consultant radiologists at each hospital," he said. "My view is that the minister should come home."

The HSE has also asked every hospital to show that they do not have similar problems to those experienced in Tallaght, where 58,000 X-rays went unread by consultant radiologists.