Belfast Telegraph

Harney joins Irish cabinet exodus

Four Irish government ministers have offered their resignations to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

The dramatic Cabinet exodus includes health minister Mary Harney, justice minister Dermot Ahern, transport minister Noel Dempsey and defence minister Tony Killeen.

Former Progressive Democrats leader Ms Harney was first to reveal her shock decision to stand down ahead of quitting politics at the upcoming general election, expected in March.

While the other three Fianna Fail ministers had signalled their intention not to seek re-election, their mass departure, announced late on Wednesday night, was unexpected.

Along with ex-foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin's decision to resign on Tuesday night after a failed heave against Taoiseach Brian Cowen, the five make up more than a quarter of the Cabinet.

Ms Harney said she offered her resignation just weeks before voters are expected to go the polls to allow Mr Cowen to put someone into the post who will be running again for the Dail.

She added: "I don't think it would be appropriate for someone who isn't going to contest the forthcoming election to remain in the Cabinet."

The Dublin Mid West TD and former tanaiste - deputy prime minister - indicated her intention to Mr Cowen on Tuesday last week but he asked her to postpone making any public announcement, she said.

At the time, Mr Cowen was defending himself against fresh revelations of his contacts with disgraced banker Sean FitzPatrick. Days later he was facing attempts to overthrow his leadership from rebels within his ruling Fianna Fail party.

Ms Harney, an Independent in the coalition government since the Progressive Democrats she co-founded collapsed two years ago, thought it was "the honourable thing" and "appropriate" to allow Mr Cowen to put someone else into the health portfolio before the election, her spokeswoman said.

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