Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Mary Harney, resigns as leader of the Progressive Democrats.

Speaking at a news conference, Mary Harney said that the time was right for the Progressive Democrats (PDs) to elect a new leader.

I informed my colleagues of my intention to stand down as leader of the party.

Mary Harney had led the party for 13 years and she said it was time for her to step down. Having deliberated over her political future during the summer, she said that she had arrived at the decision herself but hoped to remain on in her position as Minister for Health and to represent constituents in Dublin South West. Mary Harney will stand down as leader of the PDs as soon as her successor has been chosen.

Mary Harney said that nobody was aware of her decision until today and refuted any claims that there was tension between herself and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell on leadership issues.

I made this decision without any pressure whatever being put on me.

Michael McDowell paid tribute to Mary Harney's tenure as leader but had no comment to make on his own plans to run for the leadership of the party. Mr McDowell wished Mary Harney every success in the future.

The most spectacularly successful employment minister in Western Europe, the person who brought Ireland from a country of mass unemployment to huge employment. Nobody in Europe, no employment minister, can match her achievements. And in relation to health, nobody can match the scale of the reform programme that she is piloting through.

Another likely contender for the leadership position is Tom Parlon, who also pays tribute to Mary Harney as "a tremendous leader".

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 7 September 2006. The reporter is Deirdre McCarthy.