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Andrew Lynch: Surely it's time to give us a hands-on minister for health?

Crisis? What crisis? Mary Harney's casual dismissal of the Tallaght X-ray scandal as she returns home from her two-week tour of New Zealand, claiming that her absence was irrelevant because "I was never more than a phone call away", is just another reason why the Minister for Health deserves to lose her job in tomorrow's Cabinet reshuffle.

She may have technically been in touch with Ireland, but she's increasingly out of touch with public opinion -- which is why Brian Cowen will be making a major mistake if he doesn't take this opportunity to put the country's interests over personal loyalty.

While Harney has been paraded like a queen on the other side of the world, the human misery caused by the incompetence of the health system she created has continued to tear lives apart.

Thousands of families across Dublin are still waiting for the results of the X-rays left unread by radiologists in Tallaght, terrified that the all-clear they originally received may yet be replaced by a death sentence.

For the vast majority it will not come to that, but that doesn't excuse the appalling mismanagement that created such a situation -- and for that reason, somebody's head surely needs to roll.

Ever since the demise of the PDs after the last General Election, Harney has been in a unique position within the Cabinet.


She is now officially an independent TD, which means she has no more right to a position at the top table than Michael Lowry or Jackie Healy-Rae.

She has survived up to now for two main reasons -- one, the Taoiseach personally likes and rates her, and two, the Department of Health is regarded as such a disaster zone that no career-conscious Fianna Fail TD wants to go there.

If Harney was seen to be doing a good job, that wouldn't be a problem. Instead, the Tallaght scandal is the clearest sign yet that the reform package she introduced with such fanfare has completely failed to achieve its promised results.

She has constantly pleaded for more time, but five and a half years should be long enough for any health minister -- and with the patient in such a critical condition, it's surely time to try an alternative course of treatment.

Mary Harney seems to think she can do her job over the telephone.

Brian Cowen would be well advised to come into the Dail tomorrow and appoint a Minister for Health with a rather more hands-on approach.