Mary Harney is the current leader of the Progressive Democrats, one of Ireland's smaller political parties. Although born in Ballinasloe, County Galway, she is a TD in the Dublin South West constituency, and will be running in this year's (2002) general election in the new Dublin Mid West constituency.

Born in 1953, Mary was educated in various convents in Dublin, and graduated with a BA from Trinity College. While in college, she was the first lady (and I use the term quite loosely) auditor of the college's Historical society (one of Trinity's two main debating societies, the other being the Philosophical society); she was also (apparently...) once caught in a slightly compormising position on a pool table in Trinity's debating chambers; the building's caretaker once showed me the framed, stained piece of green baize as evidence.

After her graduation, Mary joined Fianna Fail, and in 1977 she was nominated to the Irish Senate (or Seanad) by the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader, Jack Lynch. She served four years in the Seanad, and then, in 1981, she was elected to the Dail.

In 1985, along with Desmond O'Malley, and other disenchanted members of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Mary helped found the Progressive Democrats. Since their inception, the PDs have held a disproportionate amount of sway for their size in Irish politics, due to their participation in several coalition governments; it has been a long time since any one party has held a majority in the Dail. In 1989, having won six seats in the general election the PDs went into coalition with Fianna Fail, and Mary was appointed minister for Environmental Protection. Her main achievement in this office was the banning of smoky coal from Dublin in 1990, to be replaced by aptly named smokeless fuels. This measure was an unqualified success, almost completely eradicating Dublin's massive smog problem, which was causing a lot illness and damage to buildings around the city. Before the general election of 1993, Mary was appointed Deputy leader of the PDs, and spokesperson for Justice, Equality and Law Reform

In the general election of 1993, the PDs won 10 seats, but did not return to government; Fianna Fail instead chose the Labour party as their government partner. Des O'Malley resigned his leadership of the party, and Mary defeated Pat Cox to become the new party leader. That year, she was also voted Ireland's Independent Woman Of the Year.

In the 1997 general election, the PDs returned to power with 4 TDs in a jumbled coalition with Fianna Fail, which included several independent TDs (including, most notably Jackie Healy-Rae). The drop in the number of PD seats is possibly attributable to their campaign posters, which showed a picture of the local candidate with Mary's sour puss scowling over their shoulder. Still, Mary became the first woman in Irish history to lead a party into government (albeit as a minority partner in a coalition), and was made Tanaiste (or vice-Taoiseach) and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Although she has undoubtably done some good work in this office, she has recently been majorly criticised for using an expensive government jet to fly to Sligo for the opening of her friend's off-license, a trip which cost the Irish tax-payers several thousand pounds.

Information adapted from and

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