Top Harney aide isto be replaced

Fri, Sep 15, 2006, 01:00

In his first important personnel change since taking over as leader of the Progressive Democrats, Michael McDowell has not reappointed Katherine Bulbulia as programme manager to the Tánaiste, a post she has held for the past nine years.

Ms Bulbulia's appointment lapsed automatically when Ms Harney stepped down as Tánaiste on Wednesday, and at a meeting later that day Mr McDowell told her he intended to appoint his own person to the position.

A spokeswoman for the PDs said last night that at a meeting with Ms Bulbulia, Mr McDowell had expressed his appreciation of the work she had done over the past nine years.

It is understood he also told her she would have a future role to play in the party.

Ms Bulbulia, a former Fine Gael senator who ran as a PD candidate in the 1997 election, was appointed as the Tánaiste's programme manager on the formation of the coalition government with Fianna Fáil in June of that year.

Since then she has worked with the Taoiseach's programme manager, Gerry Hickey, on a day-to-day basis, and the relationship between the two has been the main channel of communication between the PDs and the larger Government party.

Ms Bulbulia, who was on a salary of €140,000 a year, has also played an important role in communicating between the Tánaiste and the other members of the PD parliamentary party, keeping them informed about the decisions being taken at Government level.

Back in June when the leadership crisis erupted in the PDs, Ms Bulbulia was one of those who played a role in encouraging Ms Harney to stay on.

In the light of Ms Bulbulia's close relationship with Ms Harney, the decision of Mr McDowell to dispense with her service has not come as a huge surprise.

However ,there is considerable regret in the party that such a well-liked figure is departing the political scene.

Ms Bulbulia has been involved in national politics since the late 1970s when she was one of a number of women involved in the Women's Political Association who joined Fine Gael with the encouragement of Garret FtizGerald.

She contested the 1981 election in her native Waterford, and, while she did not win a seat, she polled over 3,000 votes on her first attempt.

Ms Bulbulia did not join the PDs on their foundation in 1985, but remained on as a Fine Gael senator until she lost her seat in 1989.

She was personally close to Ms Harney, and after Martin Cullen defected from the PDs to Fianna Fáil she joined the party and ran in Waterford in 1997, but failed to take a seat.