Harney to attend US health care conference instead of INO

Mary Harney, the Minister for Health, will not address the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) on Friday 5 May due to her prior commitment to lecture US health industry professions, business leaders and journalists on "Fostering Innovation: A Government Perspective". That day nurses are expected to vote for a motion of no confidence in her management of the current accident and emergency crisis.


The INO have said it would be the first time in more than 30 years that the serving minister for health would not be attending the organisation's conference. Minister of State Brian Lenihan is to represent the Government at the conference. Harney was invited to the INO conference in January, but said that the previous commitment was arranged last October.

Two weeks ago Mary Harney did not attend the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation. Liz O'Donnell, Labour spokesperson on health, said on 3 May that Mary Harney's failure to attend the INO conference "appears to be an act of political cowardice."

She said the Department of Health had been "particularly coy" about details of Mary Harney's commitments in the US. "They should now publish a full itinerary to allow the public to judge for themselves as to whether her engagements there are more important than the opportunity to address the INO conference."

Mary Harney's US lecture is part of a conference in Philadelphia hosted by the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT) based at the University of Pennsylvania. Harney is addressing the conference on the morning of Saturday 6 May but is travelling Friday as she is said to be eager to attend an after dinner speech by a leading US Bio-ethics expert on Friday evening.

Garret A FitzGerald, the director of ITMAT, confirmed that he arranged the minister's attendance at the event several months ago. The event is mainly funded by the Ivy League university but is also being sponsored by IBM, the Financial Times and three private health sector companies.

FitzGerald said: "We asked her a long time ago. This is a conference that brings together people around the issue of biomedical research relating to drug development. It brings together people in academia from around the world, people who are in the phrama and biotech industries again from across the world, politicians, venture capital people and journalists."

The conference is being addressed by a leading official in the US Food and Drug Administration, by a senior advisor at GlaxoSmithKline and Sophia Tickell BA, director of Pharma Futures II, lecturing on "Making Pharma Sector Investment More Attractive – Why the Business Model Needs to Change?".

Scott Millar