Mary Harney

Mary Harney
Minister for Health and Children
In office
29 September 2004  19 January 2011
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Brian Cowen
Preceded by Micheál Martin
Succeeded by Mary Coughlan
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
In office
26 June 1997  13 September 2004
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Preceded by Richard Bruton
Succeeded by Micheál Martin
Leader of the Progressive Democrats
In office
25 May 2007  17 April 2008
Preceded by Michael McDowell
Succeeded by Ciarán Cannon
In office
26 October 1993  11 September 2006
Preceded by Desmond O'Malley
Succeeded by Michael McDowell
In office
26 June 1997  13 September 2006
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Preceded by Dick Spring
Succeeded by Michael McDowell
Teachta Dála
In office
May 2002  February 2011
Constituency Dublin Mid-West
In office
July 1981  May 2002
Constituency Dublin South-West
In office
October 1977  June 1981
Constituency Nominated by the Taoiseach
Personal details
Born (1953-03-11) 11 March 1953
Ballinasloe, Galway, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Independent (Since 2009)
Other political
Progressive Democrats (1985–2009)
Fianna Fáil (1977–85)
Spouse(s) Brian Geoghegan
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Mary Harney (born 11 March 1953) is an Irish former politician. She served as Tánaiste from 1997 to 2006, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 1997 to 2004, and as Minister for Health and Children from 2004 to 2011. She also served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-West and Dublin Mid-West constituencies from 1981 to 2011.

She was leader of the Progressive Democrats party between 1993 and 2006 and again from 2007 to 2008. She resumed her role as leader in 2007 after her successor, Michael McDowell, lost his seat at the 2007 general election. She is the longest-ever serving female member of Dáil Éireann.[1]

Early life

Harney was born in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway in 1953.[2] Her parents, who lived in nearby Ahascragh, were both farmers but her family moved to Newcastle, County Dublin shortly after her birth. She was educated at the Convent of Mercy, Inchicore and Presentation Convent, Clondalkin before studying at Trinity College, Dublin.

During her time at university, she made history by becoming the first female auditor of the College Historical Society.[3] In 1976, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies, and for a brief time was a secondary school teacher at Castleknock College in Dublin.

Political career: 1977–2011

Fianna Fáil: 1977–1985

Harney came to the attention of Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch and stood unsuccessfully as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the 1977 general election. She was then appointed to Seanad Éireann by Lynch who had become Taoiseach.[4] She was the youngest ever member of the Seanad when appointed, aged 24.[5]

In 1979, Harney had her first electoral success when she was elected to Dublin County Council. Two years later she was elected to the Dáil at the 1981 general election for Dublin South-West. She retained her seat at every election until her retirement in 2011, moving to the new Dublin Mid-West constituency at the 2002 general election when it was created from part of Dublin South-West.[6] As a member of the so-called Gang of 22, she was expelled from the party after voting in favour of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.[7]

Foundation of Progressive Democrats: 1985–1993

Harney went on to become a founder member of the Progressive Democrats with Desmond O'Malley and Bobby Molloy in December 1985.

Following the 1989 general election the Progressive Democrats entered into a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, led at the time by Charles Haughey. Harney was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Environmental Protection. As Minister of State she legislated to ban the sale of bituminous coal in Dublin, thereby eliminating smog from the city. She served in this position until the party withdrew from government in late 1992. In February 1993, Harney was appointed Deputy Leader of the Progressive Democrats, and succeeded O'Malley as party Leader in October of that year.[8]

Entering coalition with Fianna Fáil again: 1997–2004

Following the 1997 general election and lengthy negotiations, the Progressive Democrats entered into coalition government with Fianna Fáil. Harney was appointed the first female Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

After the 2002 general election Harney led the Progressive Democrats, who had doubled their seats from four to eight, back into coalition with Fianna Fáil, the first time a government had been re-elected since 1969. She was re-appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Harney was Ireland's representative to the European Council of Ministers for the Software Patents Directive.[9] Because the Council's first reading fell during the Irish Presidency of the European Council, she was chair of the meeting that discarded the amendments by the European Parliament which confirmed the exclusion of software innovations from what constitutes patentable subject matter.

In December 2001, Harney controversially used an Air Corps aircraft[10] to travel to County Leitrim to open a friend's off-licence in Manorhamilton; the trip cost €1,500. Harney later apologised for having abused her position in using the plane for non-government business and admitted that using the plane was wrong. The aircraft was to be used 90% of the time exclusively for maritime surveillance.[11]

Minister for Health and Children: 2004–2011

In a government reshuffle on 29 September 2004 Harney was appointed Minister for Health and Children.

In May 2006, the Irish Nurses Organisation unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Mary Harney, accusing her of being negative and antagonistic towards nurses.[12] Her policy of transferring private beds in public hospitals to privately operated hospitals also attracted criticism.[13]

In March 2006, 16 months after she took office as health minister, the INO claimed that a record number of 455 people were waiting on hospital trolleys on one day (although the Health Service Executive gave a figure of 363 people waiting on hospital trolleys for the same day).[14] In June 2006 the Health Consumer Powerhouse ranked the Irish health service as the second-least "consumer-friendly" in the European Union and Switzerland, coming 25th out of 26 countries, ahead of only Lithuania.[15] However when the same survey was conducted a year later, the Irish health service showed significant improvement, coming 16th out of 29 countries. Ireland even scored higher than Britain's NHS which came 17th in the survey.

In July 2006, Ireland on Sunday reported that Mary Harney's mother, Mrs Sarah Harney, jumped a queue of two emergency cases to receive hip surgery at The Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Tallaght. The allegation was strongly denied by the minister.[16] Sixty percent of respondents to an Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll in December 2006 said that the appointment of Harney to the position of Minister for Health had not led to any improvement in the health service. Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Harney's own Progressive Democrats supporters were those who expressed most satisfaction with people in Dublin also feeling most dissatisfaction regionally.[17] Harney rejected criticisms from Fine Gael during the same month that there had been a 25% increase in people waiting on trolleys in regional hospitals during the past two years; she claimed Health Service Executive statistics showed otherwise.[18]

In July and August 2006, she issued three orders exempting two new community nursing units, to be built at St. Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park, from the usual legal requirement of planning permission, despite the Park being a designated and protected national monument. The Department of Health said the decision was made because of what it called the department's "emergency response to the accident and emergency crisis at the time", although the nursing units, in use since 2008, are mainly for geriatric care.[19]

The same year, in her capacity as Minister for Health, Mary Harney introduced risk equalisation into the Irish healthcare market. This was hugely resisted by BUPA. Despite High Court proceedings, the controversial change was upheld. This forced BUPA out of the Irish healthcare market. (BUPA Ireland was afterwards bought by the Irish-owned Quinn Group, averting any fear of redundancies.) In January 2007 a leaked memo said that the planned Cancer Care Strategy, due for completion in 2011, would not be delivered on time. Harney denied this and said that since the leaking of the memo there had been much progress, although she did not elaborate. The plan was to allow for nationwide radiotherapy services by 2011.[20][21]

Resignation and return as party leader: 2006–2008

On 7 September 2006, Mary Harney announced that she was resigning as leader of the Progressive Democrats and that she would remain leader until a successor was chosen. She said she wanted to continue as Minister for Health[22] but stated that it was a matter for her successor and the Taoiseach. She was succeeded by then Justice Minister Michael McDowell after Tom Parlon and backbencher Liz O'Donnell nominated him. Parlon became party president and O'Donnell Deputy Leader in an agreement with McDowell after much speculation that the pair would also seek the leadership.[23]

Following the poor performance of the Progressive Democrats at the 2007 general election, in which the party lost six of its eight seats including that of party leader Michael McDowell, Harney resumed her role as party leader. The Progressive Democrats' rules at the time stipulated that the leader of the party must be a TD, and Harney was one of only two remaining TDs; she resumed the leadership in a caretaker capacity. Following a rule change that broadened the eligibility, she was succeeded by Senator Ciarán Cannon as party leader on 17 April 2008.[24]

Independent TD: 2008–2011

When the Progressive Democrats voted to disband in November 2008, Harney said she would remain as an independent TD once the party was wound up.[25]

Resignation as minister and retirement from Dáil: 2011

On 15 January 2011, Harney tendered her resignation as Minister for Health and Children to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.[26] She also stated that she would not be contesting the 2011 general election.[26] Harney retired with a package worth more than €300,000 and is entitled to an annual pension of over €120,000. She receives an annual ministerial pension of over €70,000 and a TDs pension of €50,600. She also received a pension lump sum of €160,000, a termination lump sum of about €17,000 and monthly termination payments from the Oireachtas during her first 12 months of retirement worth another €66,900.[7]

She receives annual pension payments of €129,805.[27][28]


Harney's policies as Minister for Health often drew the ire of opponents.

Harney was among those targeted by a group calling itself the Irish Citizens Defence Force. Alongside her predecessor at the Department of Health, Micheál Martin, and officials at two prominent Dublin fertility clinics, she received a package which included a threatening letter on 29 February 2008.[29]

Councillor Louise Minihan, a member of Dublin City Council, famously threw red paint over Harney on 1 November 2010 as Harney turned the sod on a new health centre beside the Cherry Orchard Hospital in Ballyfermot.[30] Minihan was detained but later released.[31]

A short while later, on 12 November 2010, Harney's "ongoing downgrading of the [local] hospital" led to her ministerial car being pelted with eggs and cheese as she arrived in Nenagh.[32]

FÁS expenses scandal

Main article: FÁS expenses scandal

It emerged in November 2008 that Harney personally requested the use of the Government jet for a FÁS trip to Florida in 2004, at a cost of up to €80,000 to taxpayers. She travelled to Florida with senior FÁS executives, department officials, and her husband, Brian Geoghegan, and was receiving more than €100-a-day subsistence money from the taxpayer when FÁS picked up her hairdressing bill in a Florida hotel. Like all government ministers travelling abroad, she was entitled to a daily allowance for "incidental expenses".[33]

In a RTÉ Radio 1 interview on 27 November 2008, Fianna Fáil TD Mary O'Rourke described Harney's involvement in the scandal as "a load of hoo-hah". On 28 November 2008 Harney defended her use of expenses while on a FÁS trip to the US, saying that she was "not on holiday", she had not used public taxes for her own personal grooming, that the use of the government jet for the trip was made by the Taoiseach, and she had followed advice in claiming her expenses. She acknowledged meeting a relative for an hour while in the United States. The Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore told his party conference that Harney should resign because of her performance as Minister for Health.[34]

Libel cases

In 2002, Harney settled a libel case with Magill magazine for around €25,000 and in 2004 she settled a case against the Sunday Independent for €70,000. In May 2011, she received a €450,000 payout from Newstalk radio in compensation for a slur made about her on live air by journalist Nell McCafferty.[35]

Post-politics: 2011–present

Board memberships

In 2012, Harney joined the board of a new healthcare company, Cara. In her first interview since leaving office, Harney said she joined the board of two Irish 'high-potential' start-ups, Cara Health and Ward Biotech. She was also employed in speaking engagements, saying: "I spoke at a recent surgeons' conference in New York on my experience as a health minister and in Berlin on the Irish pharma sector." In April 2012 Harney joined the board of car fleet insurer Euro Insurances, an Irish subsidiary of Dutch leasing giant Leaseplan. Indian pharma businessman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, appointed Harney to the board of Biocon, a Bangalore-based company employing 7,000 and expanding in Malaysia.[36]

2016 address

On 17 April 2016, Harney intervened in government formation talks, claiming the deadlock would damage "Ireland's reputation" in remarks made during her closing address at the three-day Women in Media conference in Ballybunion. In the same address Harney, who attended with husband Brian Geogheghan, claimed that "when she left public life she made a conscious decision to leave politics behind her".[37]

Personal life

In November 2001 Harney married Brian Geoghegan, a businessman, in a low-key afternoon ceremony in Dublin on a day in which she attended to a number of significant political meetings.[38]


  1. "Harney was impressive in her day but her legacy leaves a lot to be desired". Irish Examiner. 14 January 2011.
  2. "2,000 protest against cuts at Ballinasloe hospital". The Irish Times. 18 August 2010.
  3. "Where the sharpest pit their wits". The Irish Times. 19 February 2010.
  4. "Ms. Mary Harney". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 13 April 2009.
  5. "Minister for Health Mary Harney tenders resignation". The Irish Times. 19 January 2011.
  6. "Mary Harney". Retrieved 13 April 2009.
  7. 1 2 Minihan, Mary; Collins, Stephen (20 January 2011). "Harney calls time on a life in politics with a vow to stay silent during election campaign". The Irish Times.
  8. "Mary Harney biography". (Wayback machine). Archived from the original on 5 April 2004. Retrieved 13 April 2009.
  9. At a time when Ireland held the rotating Presidency of the European Union
  10. "Tánaiste stands over use of Air Corps aircraft". RTÉ News. 17 January 2002.
  11. "Harney's humble pie over plane 'outrage'". Irish Independent. 19 January 2002.
  12. "INO passes vote of no confidence in Harney". RTÉ News. 5 May 2006.
  13. Tom O'Connor (28 August 2005). "The regressive nature of Mary Harney's proposals leaves them open to abuse" (PDF). Sunday Business Post.
  14. "Dispute over A&E trolley counts". RTÉ News. 7 March 2006.
  15. "Our health service is the shame of Europe". Irish Independent. 27 June 2006.
  16. "Tánaiste reacts angrily to mother story". RTÉ News. 31 July 2006.
  17. "Majority unhappy with Harney's performance in Health". 5 December 2006.
  18. "Harney rejects claims over A&E". RTÉ News. 5 December 2006.
  19. "Harney exempted Phoenix Park plan". The Irish Times. 5 May 2009. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  20. "Harney defends cancer care strategy timescale". RTÉ News. 19 January 2007.
  21. "Kenny: Govt's cancer-treatment delays a 'hoax'". 19 January 2007.
  22. "Harney steps down as leader of PDs". RTÉ News. 7 September 2006.
  23. "Search for PD leader as Harney steps down". RTÉ News. 8 September 2006.
  24. "Cannon elected leader of the Progressive Democrats". Irish Times. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  25. "PDs vote to bring party to an end". RTÉ News. 8 November 2008. Archived from the original on 11 December 2008.
  26. 1 2 "Mary Harney to retire from politics". RTÉ News. 19 January 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  27. Kelly, Fiach (10 November 2011). "Thanks big fellas: Ahern and Cowen get massive pensions". Irish Independent. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  28. "I am worth my €130,000 per year pension". Irish Independent. 18 November 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  30. "Harney attacked with red paint in Ballyfermot (gallery)". 1 November 2010.
  31. "Councillor who threw paint at Harney released". The Irish Times. 2 November 2010.
  32. "Eggs and cheese thrown at Mary Harney's car". RTÉ News. 12 November 2010.
  33. "Revealed: sky-high cost of FAS Florida trip". Irish Independent. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  34. "Harney defends FÁS trip expenses". RTÉ News. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  35. "Newstalk to pay Harney more than €400,000". The Irish Times. 5 May 2011.
  36. "Harney joins board of new health firm". Irish Independent. 22 July 2012.
  37. Mary Harney warns government formation delay damaging Ireland's international reputation
  38. "When Mary met Brian". Irish Independent. 8 December 2001.
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