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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 23, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

    Reshuffle – early verdict

    Harry McGee

    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.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Have I got this right? One of the wost ministers (ever) who was too lazy/stupid/unprofessional to do anything to stop the abuses in FAS – or to bring those officials in FAS to account – is now moved to a new department with FAS following her?

      God help the children – the mind boggles at what calamities are coming their way.

      Batt O’Keefe couldn’t even get a school building programme up and running yet he is meant to be a better replacement for calamity Coughlan – I don’t suppose he could be worse.

      As for the Greens – they can’t possibly not understand that all people see now is the Greens learning the worst habits of their FF masters and lapping up ‘jobs for the boys’. Has anyone been in touch with Roger Garland to get his thoughts on them – all his life’s work is going to wiped out in one go thanks to Gormless and Co.

      And it took over a month for Biffo to come up with this dogs dinner – was he discussing it with the pope or something – seems both of them were gifted a chance to prove they ‘get it’ and both have failed even more spectularly than we feared.

      In that time more jobs were lost and more people lost the battle to stay solvent and now the government goes off for a month long Easter holiday and then it will be off for a 5 month summer holiday.

      You have to wonder how low does the country have to go before Irish people get off their backsides and express their anger and get this government out.

    • Andrew says:

      @Desmond – Roger Garland’s life work? Christopher Fettes is the man who founded the party and he will be at our convention this weekend

      Most commentators would say that the Greens have performed well in areas where they have Ministers (Environment, planning, energy, food etc) so it made excellent sense for them to try for another Junior position to advance that. One area where the Greens were vulnerable was the equality area, so getting Mary White there will be a big help.

    • Alex says:

      I am a little baffled as to what the Taoiseach thinks will come of this exercise. He replaced Mary Coughlan which should have been done 2 years previous with another man that has no idea of how a business should be run. When will enterprise, trade and employment get a Minister that actually understands what Irish businesses need to survive and eventually grow. I thought Mary Hanafin was maybe dealt a harsh blow as she appeared to be getting to grips with her department. Maybe the new Ministers will surprise us all and get things moving in the right direction and then again maybe I will win the euromillions ten weeks in a row. I see a general election coming this year and Enda Kenny finally getting his wish although I think he should be made to sweat.

    • steve white says:

      taking the unofficial jnr ministry announcenments as true, theres surprisningly lack of replacment for ministers for national drugs strategy john curran who is moving to just chief whip…

      it alway seemed a key policy issue for ‘compassionate’ ff to have a particular junior minister for drugs.

    • marks says:

      This is simply a case of moving the appendages on a corpse. There is nothing here innovative, reminiscent of hard choices.

      Its the same old story fed to a gullible public

      @ Desmond, the Irish people are too apathetic to get off their backsides. Period. They will grumble and moan and do nothing.
      When someone does do something they get pilloried. Look at the passport office story. There is one letter today out of those that are published that “gets it”.
      The lower paid civil servants suffer.
      400,000 unemployed make an influencial lobby group. But no… FF are still in power, they know how to play the people. I know understand fully why 80 odd years of FF repression could occur. It does so with the full complicity of the people.
      But lets not forget the spin the press puts on it, the division between workers advantages only one group and it isn’t the people.
      As long as the people have someone whose ire can be directed at, then that is all thats needed to maintain the status quo.

    • David O'Reilly says:

      Unprecedented opportunity presented to the opposition by the timing of the FG Ard Fheis and the lack lustre cabinet re-shuffle. Both should have been platforms in their own right for a brow beating of the coalition government. Step forward the opposition with their two barrels aimed at their own feet. First barrel loaded with headline from Ard Fheis “Young Fine Gael rejects all of leadership’s key reform plans”. Impact of Ard Fheis neutered. Second barrel loaded with headline from re-shuffle “Varadkar rebuked over comments”!! Gaping opportunity passed, and two feet blown off. Reminds me of a scene from Father Ted, where Dougal cant help but press the red button!!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @2: if you genuinely think the Greens have achieved anything in power than I almost feel sorry for you. The Greens have done nothing to reform the planning process or local government and have done nothing to move Ireland more in line with the continent where people are perfectly happy to rent for life with the right checks and balances between being secure in your home, being responsible to maintain it and the with those who own the physical building protecting their asset.

      Where is the reform to stop TDs etc claiming pensions, hanging onto former jobs, banning corporate finance and making all public servants be they the President or the office junior who claim an expense providing a receipt and the cost being published online etc etc etc.

      The facts simply do not back up claims that the Greens have ‘changed’ anything – 3 years in and still no broadband – how’s that going Eamon. How’s the mess in Tara and Ringsend going John – we know the reason Gogo hasn’t got one of the jobs for the boys is because he is barking.

      But hwat is the justification for the other jobs for the boys and Greens being appointed to quangos with no accountability ot transparency? The Greens have turned out to be as sleazy as Fianna Fáil – they in fact learnt their lessons even faster than the PDs who turned out also be just as corrupt and sleazy as their Fianna Fáil masters – by all means FG is far from perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than what’s there now and that has to be a good starting point.

      Bring on the election – the longer you cling on turninga blind eye to the corruption and sleaze and cronyism the worse you punishment will be.

    • Prichards says:

      its evident mr cowen sees no new rising stars in FF, this is a shuffle, not a reshuffle. Coughlan messed up big time with FAS, yet she brings it with her,to eduacation, what a mess she will make there. Harney has been a disaster at health, but he leaves her there. I thought Cowen would breathe new life into the party, but he is just as arrogant as his predecessors, he is accommadating to a church who witheld information from the police, he supports the awful scrounging off the taxpayer by the expenses scam. he is supportive of Hannafin, and her bundles of pensions, people are without jobs, but she is able to retire on a big dail pension, & collect one from a body that she left 20/30 years previously, where would that happen, he supports all kinds of scams. i just hope FF are not elected by fixing the hole in the road brigade. I would like to see europe take over the managment of our finance. Coewn Harney Martin & others in times of austerity flying 1st class on the taxpayer to far flung places on st patricks day, no other country in europe does this kind of thing. he has kept his enemies close to him.

    • Michael Hanna says:

      Folks, here is the problem…

      We elect these people without any qualfications for the jobs they are doing.

      Would an employer do the same- NO!

      Four teachers in the cabinet, given jobs they are simply not qualified to do. A Taoiseach who seems to laxadazical in the extreme, a health minister who pays more attention to her Hair; than her job. The greens, well I can say many hurtful things here, but I will trust the people to do whats right and dump them out on their backsides next election. It was a greatly missed moment for Cowan to show what he was made of, confirming my veiw that he is the worst Taoiseach in the history of the state.

    • robespierre says:

      Desmond you do our verdant chum a great disservice. The greens had the vegetable of the month bulletin from their Sargent-at-Arms and rather dishy cycling to work scheme.

      So revolutionary neither has yet been a major plank of government reform in any other state.

    • PRICHARDS says:


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