Harney calls time on a life in politics with a vow to stay silent during election campaign

Thu, Jan 20, 2011, 00:00

MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney announced last night she had resigned from the Cabinet and would not contest this year’s general election.

A former leader and founding member of the Progressive Democrats, she served as tánaiste from June 1997 until September 2006, having been first elected to the Dáil in 1981 for Fianna Fáil.

Last night she said it was now “appropriate” for her to indicate she was standing down from Cabinet, given that Taoiseach Brian Cowen had to fill the position vacated by former minister for foreign affairs Micheál Martin.

“I urge people, particularly younger people, to participate in the political process with purpose, energy and commitment, and to reject personal rancour and cynicism in public life. Be ambitious for the country you want to create,” she said.

Ms Harney said she told Mr Cowen of her decision early last week and offered her resignation, but he had asked her not to proceed at that time. She said the forthcoming election was about the future of Ireland, “a future that can be, and I am convinced will be, renewed, reformed and successful”.

Ms Harney was reappointed minister for health and children in June 2007, to the position she held since September 2004.

Ms Harney has been involved in politics all her adult life. From a Fianna Fáil family, she became an active member of the party while a student in Trinity College Dublin in the early 1970s and came to public prominence as an accomplished debater.

She ran for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election; while she failed to get elected a TD, she was appointed to the Seanad by incoming taoiseach Jack Lynch. At 24, she was the youngest ever member of the upper house.

Elected to the Dáil in 1981, she quickly became a prominent member of the anti-Haughey wing of the party.

Ms Harney was expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1985 and the following month became a founding member of the Progressive Democrats with Des O’Malley and Michael McDowell.

She was appointed a minister of state at the Department of the Environment in the first Fianna Fáil-PD coalition in June 1989. Her principal achievement in the post was the legislation that ended smog in Dublin by banning the sale of untreated coal.

When Mr O’Malley resigned as leader of the PDs in 1993, Ms Harney defeated Pat Cox to become the first woman party leader in the Dáil.

She led her party into coalition with Fianna Fail after the 1997 general election and served as tánaiste to Bertie Ahern until 2006. Prior to her appointment as minister for health in 2004, she served as minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

In September 2006 she stepped down as leader of the Progressive Democrats and was replaced by Michael McDowell.

Ms Harney said last night she would not be engaging in any political activity or agreeing to any political interviews in the run-up to the election.

“There will be plenty of time afterwards for reflection and assessment,” she said.

Mr Cowen paid tribute to Ms Harney saying she was a politician of substance who had given many years of outstanding service to Ireland.

“She has been a most capable and loyal colleague. She has made a positive and lasting contribution to the development of Irish politics and Irish society,” he said.

RETIREMENT PACKAGE: HARNEY TO GET €120,000-PLUS PENSION

Mary Harney will retire with a package worth more than €300,000 and will be entitled to a pension of over €120,000 a year.

Ms Harney (57) has been a Cabinet Minister for the past 13 years and was tánaiste for more than nine years during that time.

She will receive an annual ministerial pension of over €70,000 and a TD’s pension of €50,600.

Before those pension payments kick in she will receive a pension lump sum of €160,000, a termination lump sum of about €17,000 and monthly termination payments from the Oireachtas over the next 12 months worth another €66,900.

The pension of more than €120,000 means that Ms Harney will be paid considerably more when she retires than the €90,000-a-year salary she would get if she was re-elected to the next Dáil. STEPHEN COLLINS