Friday 21 October 2016

'Family felt deeply hurt over burning effigies of me', says Mary Harney

Former Tanaiste Mary Harney Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former Tanaiste Mary Harney Photo: Steve Humphreys

Mary Harney told how her family was deeply hurt after effigies of her were burned following the "highly controversial" reform of national cancer services.

The former Health Minister and leader of the Progressive Democrats said she developed the thick skin necessary for politics - but that her parents and husband had been very upset about the criticism throughout her political career.

Speaking at yesterday's Women's Executive Network (WXN) breakfast, Ms Harney opened up about the public reaction to the "incredibly controversial" reform of national cancer services - consolidated into eight centres - while she was Minister for Health.

It resulted in Brian Cowen's government losing two deputies because the Taoiseach "stood by the plan, notwithstanding political pressure".

Ms Harney recalled how there were "posters in Monaghan up with my picture, saying 'wanted for murder' and effigies of me were burned on bonfires in many parts of the country".

"I just say that as a sample of when you try to do the right thing, how very often it can be a challenge," she added, telling delegates that they have to be "determined, focused, be tough, calm and have passion".

Ms Harney looked relaxed and fresh with her hair worn longer and flipped up at the ends as she joked to delegates about her billing at the WXN event as "Reinvention and Re-imagination".

"I suppose when you saw reinvention and re-imagination .you probably thought you were going to see a size six Mary Harney on the stage with long blonde hair," she said.


Speaking at the breakfast event, she said she is now enjoying life outside politics - particularly her privacy. Ms Harney also revealed she is working in a number of roles, including one on the board of the Hospice Foundation.

The former Tanaiste also spoke of the financial collapse, admitting that one of the key mistakes the government of the time made was in benchmarking the public sector against private sector pay instead of public sector pay in other countries.

She said that when there's a downturn, the private sector can make reductions much more easily.

"It's much more difficult in a public sector environment," Ms Harney said.

She spoke about her time as Minister for Health, making a veiled reference to her reform of the health service.

"In each job you can only do incremental change," she said, adding that if she has learned anything over the course of her political career it is that "getting bogged down in structural change is not a very worthwhile task".

"I would tell anybody in a ministerial role to avoid structural change unless it's very necessary because it is all-consuming for the people who work in an organisation."

She added that "sometimes there's confusion between structural reform and the real reason the structure is in place which is to make things happen".

Meanwhile, she addressed the increasing role played by women in Irish politics, saying she had originally been against quotas - and praised new senator Lynne Ruane, who she said was an "invaluable role model" for women in West Tallaght remaining in education.

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