New Zealand trip an 'abuse'


MINISTER FOR HEALTH Mary Harney’s two-week trip to New Zealand has been described as an “abuse” of the system where Ministers represent Ireland abroad for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore made the allegation during ill-tempered exchanges in the Dáil about the Minister’s absence during the controversy over the failure to review 57,000 X-rays and reports that thousands of letters of referral from GPs to consultants at the hospital were unopened.

The Opposition opposed the adjournment of the Dáil for 12 days until Tuesday March 23rd, and Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said there should be at least one full-day sitting next week. “It beggars belief that Tallaght is a unique aberration within the network of acute hospital sites,” he said.

The Government, however, won the division by 66 votes to 62.

The Sinn Féin TD also challenged Fine Gael and Labour to cancel the “pairing” arrangement for the Minister, whereby a member of the Opposition refrains from voting to balance the absence of a member of Government on official business.

Mr Gilmore opposed the Government’s proposal that “the Dáil is going to be closed down until Tuesday week”.

It was “not acceptable” that “no answers can be given about what went on, and that no Minister is held accountable”.

“I think it’s a good thing that Government Ministers represent Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, and I think it’s a good thing that we should maximise the opportunities that that gives Ministers to promote the country.

“But St Patrick’s Day is one day, and at best St Patrick’s Day events are organised for a couple of days around it.”

In sharp criticism of Ms Harney, he said “we now have one Minister who’s on a visit to New Zealand for two weeks on an itinerary . . . that reads more like The Lord of the Rings trail than it does like a state visit. The only thing missing from it is dinner hosted by Bilbo Baggins.” It was “utterly incredible”. And “meanwhile the health service, for which she is responsible, is falling apart”.

He added: “It’s one thing to have the country represented abroad on St Patrick’s Day, but the abuse of that on this occasion is not acceptable.”

However, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said St Patrick’s Day was an occasion used by Government “to attract foreign direct investment, to support our own industries abroad”.

There was a “huge programme of work” for all Ministers.

“And unlike any other country in the world we have an opportunity to sell this country as a place to do business and to support many of our indigenous businesses.”

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny disputed her remarks, and said that “other countries have special days, such as Bastille Day or the Fourth of July”.