The 26-County Deputy Prime Minister, Tanaiste Mary Harney, has announced she is stepping down as leader of the Progressive Democrats.
Harney made the announcement at a press conference in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel this afternoon.
She told the press conference she would leave her post as soon as the party had elected a successor. She has been in the position for 13 years.
The move comes following a behind-the-scenes power struggle with Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, the front-runner to take over the leadership of the small but influential Progressive Democrats party.
The resignation has thrown Dublin’s coalition government into disarray. Bertie Ahern’s majority Fianna Fail party still requires the support of the eight PD members of the Dail. Many observers expect the PDs to withdraw from government under Michael McDowell’s leadership or possibly disintegrate completely.
While she said she would like to remain as Minister for Health, Ms Harney said that was a matter for the new party leader.
She said she had taken a longer holiday than usual this summer and that during three weeks off she had taken time to “reflect on matters political”.
The PD leader said she had come to the conclusion that now is the right time for the party to elect a new leader, and also the right time for her to vacate the position she has held for 13 years.
Ms Harney said that when she had been chosen as party leader 13 years ago, she had never envisaged she would stay in the position for so long.
Her predecessor, Des O’Malley, was leader for just eight years, she noted.
Ms Harney said it was important for political parties to reinvigorate themselves.
“I’m conscious that there is less than a year to go to the next election. However, we are a small party, we have very strong personalities within the party who are well known to the electorate.
“We have people who, in my view, can more than ably articulate the vision of the Progressive Democrats, and I feel proud to say that, I think, as a small party we have played a very important part in the politics of this country, particularly in Government in two periods between 1997 and to the current date, and in the previous period between 1989 and 1992.”
esponding to the resignation, Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain TD said the Fianna Fail/PD Government is “at the end of the line and the whole lot of them should now resign and call a General Election”.
He said, “As far as the vast majority of people are concerned Mary Harney’s leadership of the PDs was irrelevant.
“Relevant to every citizen is the crisis in our health services over which she has presided as Minister for Health and Children. Her stewardship of our Health Services has been appalling as was that of her predecessors in the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats Coalition since 1997.”
O Caolain said that in government, the PDs had been given “free rein” by Fianna Fail to pursue their right-wing policies, including Harney’s controversial hospital privatisation plan.
Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said this afternoon he believed Michael McDowell would “manufacture an excuse” to break up the Government.
Speaking after Tanaiste Mary Harney announced she was stepping down as leader of the Progressive Democrats, Mr Rabbitte described that party as “dysfunctional”.
“I said at Mullingar on Tuesday that the PD bust up might sunder this government earlier than expected. I do not believe it is credible for the government to go on as if nothing has happened,” Mr Rabbitte said in a statement. “The forcing out of Mary Harney leaves a dysfunctional minor partner in government.