Reshuffle – early verdict
I’ve written a piece of analysis for the online edition, which should be going up about now. Here is it (written slightly less informally than the blog).
There was never even a remote possibility that today’s Cabinet reshuffle would emulate Albert Reynolds’s sacking of eight Ministers when he became Taoiseach in 1992.
It was not in Brian Cowen’s nature to instigate a dramatic shake-up. Besides the sometimes bucolic image, he is cautious in his instinct. And though he kept his own counsel in the run up to this afternoon’s announcement, the widespread predictions of a minimalist change were on the button, with nobody getting sacked.
Nor did his choice as the new senior Ministers take anybody by surprise – indeed, the names of Tony Killeen and Pat Carey were being widely mentioned in the run up to this afternoon’s appointment.
There has been some changes and reconfigurations in Departments but none are radical or systemic. The only mildly surprising aspects of the exercise were the internal shifts that took place among personnel. Mary Coughlan’s move to Education will be taken as a demotion, though it is also a senior ministry. As will the move of Mary Hanafin from Social and Family Affairs to Arts, Sports and tourism, now renamed as Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Hanafin’s transfer to Martin Cullen’s old Department was not expected. Some TDs were describing it today as symptomatic of her not being particularly close, politically, to the Taoiseach.
Conversely, the two existing Minister who are being viewed as the big winners are Batt O’Keeffe (a close ally of the Taoiseach) who takes over at Enterprise. And in the only other surprise, Eamon O Cuiv, has not only survived intact but has been moved out of Gaeltacht, Community and Rural Affairs, into Social Affairs, now renamed Social Protection. The Galway West TD will view this as a promotion after almost a decade in the same Department.
Hanafin and Coughlan can both point to the importance of their departments. The Tánaiste has been given new responsibilities for skills and training activities of FAS.
In his speech, Cowen also emphasised the “important role” of tourism and culture, saying that tourism employs over 200,000 people and there was a need to achieve the full potential of arts and culture in Ireland.
Still, few will portray the moves as wins for either Minister.
In contrast, the Minister for Health Mary Harney remains in situ, an extraordinary achievement given the difficulties attached to running her Department and the fact that she is no longer attached to any political party.
Both new Ministers are highly regarded but have been appointed on the basis of experience and loyalty rather than youth – Carey will be 63 this year and Killeen 57. Both have been competent junior ministers and, tellingly, Cowen has replaced the two most potentially cantankerous Ministers with two smooth and polished operators.
The elevation of John Curran to Government Chief Whip (a super junior position) is no surprise either. He has already been deputy whip and is another of the ‘bar lobby’, the group of Fianna Fail TDs who are the strongest supporters of Cowen within the parliamentary party.
Sean Connick has also been awarded for gaining a high profile and making his mark since 2007. Another new deputy from that election, Dara Calleary, further cements his claim as the rising star of the parliamentary party by being given an extra brief by Cowen in the Taoiseach’s Department. Calleary has been asked to oversee reform of the public service.
The expected announcement that the Greens will be given a second junior Ministry has served to extricate the party from what could have been an embarrassing mess. It is an achievement for the party to get its secret deal with Bertie Ahern honoured even in the face of the smaller party leading the charge to reduce the overall number of Ministers of State from 20 to 15.
It has staved off the internal ructions and public criticism that might have followed had not the Taoiseach conceded to its claim. The idea of rotating ministries might have been admirable in 2007 but would have been received as ridiculous now. On top of everything else, the party would have had to fend off attacks of ‘jobs for the boys’.
The reconfiguration of departments has involved some name changes and some transfers of responsibilities, but there is little that is radical or transformative. The responsibilities for FAS will no longer be taken by Enterprise but will be shared by three departments.
In the weeks leading up to the change, there was speculation that a new ministry for economic planning might be created, to look at more inventive ways for Government to plan policy in the modern era. However, the idea has not materialised. The Department of Finance was reportedly cool on the idea.
The verdict on the changes is that they are typical of Cowen: cautious, conservative and incremental.