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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 20, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    A cleanout of Government

    Harry McGee

    * Update: A lot of noise that  Batt O’Keeffe is about to resign but no official confirmation quite yet. If it’s true, it”s six in 24 hours. Half of the Cabinet smote in one night!

    It’s a reshuffle all right…. of deckchairs on the Titanic.

    When politicians put themselves out on a limb with an idea, there is often a very thin dividing line between it being an eye-cathching and imaginative initiative and a cycnical or ill-conceived bellyflop.

    Two examples of what a Minister hoped was the former but turned out to be a bellyflop: decentralisation; and e-voting.

    If Brian Cowen goes ahead and appoints people to the vacancies left by Micheal Martin, and the four ministers who resigned last night, there’s a strong chance that it will have the reverse of the desired effect.

    Already, and it’s only 9am, the reaction has been deeeply negative – and most of that has come  from within the coalition.

    Ned O’Keeffe, the Fianna Fail backbencher, has described it as ‘cynical’.

    Paul Gogarty, in an interesting blog at www.paulgogarty.com, sums up his view and the Green Party unhappiness. Few will disagree with his summation that it is orchestrated.

    Indeed, it is orchestrated. These were hardly random and coincidental acts.

    We quoted  a Fianna Fail TD in this morning’s paper who talked of huge reluctance in taking a job if were offered. His view was that it would play very very badly in the constituency.

    My own view on the reason behind it is this: There has been a high level of concern among several young Fianna Fail TDs in recent months that the party was not in in a position to drive new policy ideas in almost half of the Government departments.

    Three of the 15 ministries were held by non Fianna Fail TDs. And a further three Ministers were on the cusp of retirement.

    Michael McGrath of Cork South Central articulated this in an interview a few weeks ago. He said there was nobody in Fianna Fail speaking for the party on energy or on wider health policies, for example. He said Fianna Fail needed to get young energetic spokespeople in place to argue the party’s position, to come up with new policy ideas, to bring a bit of energy to it.

    Semi-detached Fianna Fail Ministers not contesting the elections were hardly going to be cranking it up either.

    I’m sure those concerns were expressed to Brian Cowen during the consultation period last week.

    And last night’s move was the way of dealing with it.

    Like many other things in this administration, it has happened far too late.

    New Ministers will have enough time to just about read themselves into their brief. Their impact on their respective departments will be zero.

    The hoped-for jolt of energy when the likes of Dara Calleary and Barry Andrews become senior ministers will be more than countered by the negatives – primarily another example of jobs for the boys and cronyism.

    Fianna Fail should know that this would not play particularly well and are hoping that the enthusiasm and energy of the new appointees will negate the thrashing they will take today in the media, on the airwaves and from the opposition.

    I’m just not so sure of that…

    • Mike Bray says:

      FF ministers have for the last few years stated that everything they have done and are doing is in the best interest of the country. In the middle of a general election would it not be better to have ministers who are not seeking re-electing running the departments, as they could spent their time ‘running’ the country and not looking for votes in what is a very serious time for the state?

    • robespierre says:

      There is always another agenda here Harry. Cork South Central is to Energy what Aerlingus/DAA are to Dublin North and Dublin North East. There are enough Borg Gais and Bord Gais influenced voters for a seat here.

      Maybe Michael McGrath isn’t simply playing the parish pump but BGE are an investment grade company and in a few months time the IMF will quite possibly mandate the sale of the BG Distribution leaving Gaslink (network mgt with 200 jobs) in state hands. Personally, I think he is playing the parish pump.

      Just like Cowen was when he cut Ministers salaries and the Taoiseach’s pay but left TD pay alone as he’ll be on the backbenches fairly soon and doesn’t want too much of a haircut. Incidentally, they are still all overpaid.

    • An Mailleach says:

      If Cowen contrived this, it would indicate that he has lost his political head.

    • Noirin says:

      while it may be political suicide to accept a ministerial role in this dead-man-walking government, it would also be incredibly lucrative if it meant that for a couple of months in a role, a person might get a full ministerial pension!??!? unreal stuff, really really awful and definitely lacking any integrity whatsoever.

    • tatta says:

      to say this doesn’t play well is some understatement. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace and shows how seriously out of touch FF are with the public. FF GET OUT NOW.

    • Eoin says:

      I would rather have Fianna Fail with new blood than Fine Gael and Labour. Do Enda and Eamonn know how to fix our broken country ? There will only be Hairshirts given out by the Blueshirts !!

    • Bastiaan van den Bos says:

      The comment by Noirin about them getting a ministerial pension, no matter how long they are sitting, is that really true?

    • Stephen McCann says:

      I think they have to be a minister for a spell before being entitled to pension, not sure of exact period but i know from now until election will not suffice.
      What about Martin getting 95k severance package to cushion the blow of losing his ministerial role ? Now thats a disgrace

    • Mick O'Shea says:

      Comment by Noirin is rubbish – there’s no such thing as a ‘full’ pension. It depends on the length of service, so if you serve for just a couple of weeks, then there would be a small pension.

    • Bobser says:

      50 days to go before we are spared the embarrassment of having Brian Cowen as our Taoiseach. The longer the period, the greater the fall from 14%. The Greens might even do better than FF in their fight for 4th place. The 11th of March cannot come soon enough.

    • Liam O'Mahony says:

      @Eoin: …and how’s the weather there on planet Makebelieve? Is FF topping the poll there and are the bankers and developers all friend’s of the opposition? You’re going to have a hell of a shock is ever you visit planet Earth! If you don’t like the sight of blood and the smell of rotten eggs I suggest you stay put.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      New ministers wouldn’t be entitled to ministerial pensons but they’d get some severance pay when they lost office in a few weeks.

      I suppose it’s too much to expect Lenihan would have the moral integrity to change the rules and prevent these disgusting pensions being paid as one of his last acts before he too leaves office.

      What worries me now is how do I narrow down what will be the Portfillo moment and how much champers do I need to have on ice when results day – I’ll hae a sore throat from cheering each time an FF seats is lost.

      At the moment my Portillo moment will be Mary Coughlan losing her seat, but then to see Hanafin lose her would be just as wonderful and then there’s when Conor Lenihan loses his seat and of course if Tricky Mickey Martin himself loses his eat – bliss indeed.

      And joy of joys if The Mammy loses her sea my cup will truely flowth over!

    • Hector says:

      A lot has been said about Cowen insisting it was his prerogative to name new ministers. While this might be true to an extent, I think anyone observing the life of this government would know that FF have governed as if they had a majority, and with little regard for their junior partners in coalition. The Green Party may have found its spine but it’s too late. Hopefully with the election on a Friday there will be a higher turnout than usual with people who’ve been alienated by midweek elections in the past exercising their constitutional right to vote. The Greens could have really done the country a favour by insisting the election be held on a Saturday – as is the norm in other jurisdictions. Alas, the spine can only bend so much.

      As for the election itself, it will be interesting to see what ‘promises’ FF make in order to win votes when everyone knows that there is no money to back them up. If this shower manage to get 45 seats or more in the election then the people will deserve what they get. They need to be reduced to a rump of about 25/30. Hopes they would be whipped out completely are naively optimistic. However I fear that most of the people who would have voted against them have already left the country.

    • Noel says:

      I was horrified to hear all these Ministers resigning they were doing very little anyway and to throw a shambolic Government into disarray to try and promote a few TD just goes to show this crowd have not learned anything from their mistakes. Being ABFF (anybody but FF) since the early 80’s I hope they are destroyed in the up coming election if only to send a warning to every party mess up our country and you will pay. If we are serious about real change in our political system we will have to avoid independents as they have no national interest. They are only interested in the parish pump politics (I know every politician gets elected through the parish pump but party members have the same general view of how the country should run).

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