Who runs Ireland?

The 50 people - in public service, business and law - who run the Republic

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 01:00

THE POLITICIANS


endaENDA KENNY
Taoiseach
Kenny holds the most powerful political position in the land. He is chief of the Cabinet, has the final say over its decisions, appoints Fine Gael’s nine Ministers and controls his party’s relationship with Labour. A smooth exit from the bailout boosted his authority, but elections in May and the next budget may challenge his stability. The Taoiseach relishes the public dimension, though he is not a man for policy nuance. He retains a capacity for assertive action, but backbenchers are wary of tricky initiatives such as the pylons project and the water debacle. Arthur Beesley

MICHAEL NOONAN
Minister for Finance
Noonan is in charge of the money: taxes and banks. Since Kenny handed him command of the State’s battered finances, he has cultivated the image of the elder bulwark in Cabinet against any flighty notions that would lead it off the hard path to rectitude. His influence is huge and he is a wily operator, to whom colleagues often defer. Although the crisis magnifies Noonan’s power, he remains bound by EU strictures. Arthur Beesley

bBRENDAN HOWLIN
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
Howlin’s prime task is to rein in Government spending. It fell to him last year to cut public pay, never an easy task and more difficult still for a Labour Minister. Howlin sets spending limits and has confronted James Reilly about the health budget. He has battled Pat Rabbitte about spending allocations. He is on the powerful Economic Management Council, which sets the central thrust of fiscal policy before it goes to Cabinet. Arthur Beesley

JOAN BURTON
Minister for Social Protection
Although she signs up to Cabinet decisions, Burton has cast herself as the voice of resistance to the Government’s austerity stance. She is also a noted critic of the Economic Management Council. Relations with Gilmore have been fraught, and senior Fine Gaelers complain about the slow pace of welfare reform. But Burton remains a potent political force and a pretender to Gilmore’s leadership. Arthur Beesley

EAMON GILMORE
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Gilmore is Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, making him Ireland’s second-most powerful political figure. He is also a member of the Economic Management Council. Labour struggled in the first two years of the coalition. Gilmore looked uncomfortable in his foreign-affairs brief and struggled with defections and poor polls. In the past year he has steadied, but the May elections will be telling. Harry McGee

leoLEO VARADKAR
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
One of two young Fine Gael Ministers whose performances have made them contenders to succeed Enda Kenny. Varadkar, like Simon Coveney, is driven by ideology rather than process. He is seen as right of centre in the Christian Democrat mode. As a medical doctor, transport, tourism and sport did not seem a natural fit. But he has read himself deeply into the brief. His greatest achievement has been the Gathering. Harry McGee

JAMES REILLY
Minister for Health
Reilly came to the health ministry, one of the highest-spending and most difficult departments, with a reform agenda, but he has not managed well. Failure to control spending marked his territory for scrutiny by the troika and additional oversight by the departments of Finance and Public Expenditure. He gives the impression of not having made the case for the funding to ensure a safe health system. Muiris Houston

SIMON COVENEY
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Some politicians are suited to opposition. Coveney is better in Government. He has hardly put a foot wrong in three years, securing satisfactory deals for farming and fishing, and handling the horse-meat crisis adroitly. He can be ponderous but has improved as a debater. Harry McGee

rRUAIRI QUINN
Minister for Education and Skills
Theoretically, a Minister for Education can effect radical change but Quinn has been Minister at a time of cutbacks, when teacher unions have been querulous. Highly experienced, Quinn has been safe with only partial realisation of some priorities, such as school patronage, ability in maths and improved literacy. His replacement of the Junior Cert with continuous assessment has also been opposed. He will be vulnerable in the summer reshuffle. Harry McGee

PAT RABBITTE
Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources
Rabbitte’s weary style and wiseacre wit can give the impression that he lacks enthusiasm for his portfolio, but he knows what he is talking about and has strong ideas. A former party leader, he is influential and accessible for backbench TDs and Senators. That he had to bow to Kenny in including the North-South interconnector in a study of pylons indictates his relative power. Harry McGee

alanALAN SHATTER
Minister for Justice and Equality, and for Defence
He is a legislation production line, with a stream of bills in the areas of equality and criminal law. He’s bright and liberal, which makes him a favourite of Labour TDs, though conservatives in his party are wary. His Legal Services Bill has led to rows with Labour about multidisciplinary practices. His radical legislation will leave him with a strong legacy. Harry McGee


THE ADVISERS

COLM O'REARDON
Economic adviser to the Tánaiste
O’Reardon is Eamon Gilmore’s economic guru, his watchman on the fiscal front and a trusted member of his inner circle. He advises Gilmore on Economic Management Council business and works to secure Labour’s imprint on economic policies, ensuring he is a pivotal figure in the relationship between the Government parties. Arthur Beesley

MARK KENNELLY
Adviser to the Taoiseach
Mark Kennelly is the politically appointed adviser to Enda Kenny. Kennelly has advised a series of ministers, beginning with Michael Lowry. Kenny’s chief adviser for more than 10 years, he has a significant influence on the most powerful figure in the land. He is bright, a good strategist and strong on EU issues. Harry McGee

mMARK GARRETT
Adviser to the Tánaiste
Another of the four highest-ranking special advisers, Garrett is Kennelly’s counterpart in Labour; the politically appointed adviser to Eamon Gilmore. Garrett came into Labour after working in New York with the consultancy firm McKinsey. He has always argued that the party needs to hold its nerve, not get too wrapped up in populist measures, and look to long-term gains. He has formed a strong partnership with another influential adviser, David Leach. Harry McGee

ANDREW McDOWELL
Economics adviser to the Taoiseach
An unassuming, low-key figure with huge influence, McDowell has been the engine of Fine Gael’s approach. Economic policy and budgetary strategy are Enda Kenny’s strongest suits, and McDowell has been key. An economist, he worked with Forfás before joining Fine Gael’s backroom team. He wrote most of Fine Gael’s economic policies, and the New Era idea for creating new utility companies such as Irish Water was also his. Some of his detractors say he is intent on privatisation. Harry McGee


THE CIVIL SERVANTS

martin fraserMARTIN FRASER
Secretary general to the Government
Fraser is the most powerful civil servant in the country. In his mid-40s, he runs the Civil Service in addition to being the secretary to the Government, and the Taoiseach’s chief adviser. He also chairs the IFSC Clearing House Group, a controversial amalgam of senior public servants and representatives of big financial houses and legal firms. Fraser’s elevation to the top job came after overseeing the visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama. He is a career civil servant who rose through the ranks: unassuming in public, he is seen as hardworking, competent and unexcitable. Harry McGee

JOHN MORAN
Secretary general, Department of Finance
A former senior banker, Moran was recruited by Michael Noonan to become head of banking in the Department of Finance, and then chief of the most important department. The appointment of an outsider was remarkable; this post was always the preserve of higher civil servants. If the crash had made clear the failings of the established order, Moran’s ascent also reflected the depth of the State’s expensive involvement in the banking sector. He is a pivotal figure for both, and has a role on the Economic Management Council. Arthur Beesley

ROBERT WATT
Secretary general, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
An economist, he worked at the Department of Finance before he was appointed to take charge of the separation of its expenditure division into a new department under Brendan Howlin. An activist chief, he has a key role in the formulation of the budget and presented an outline of the 2014 plan to the EU Commission in October before it was signed off by Cabinet. He participates in Economic Management Council meetings and was centrally involved in the negotiation of the Haddington Road agreement. Arthur Beesley

gerGERALDINE BYRNE-NASON
Second secretary general, Department of the Taoiseach
Byrne-Nason became second secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach soon after the Government came to power. The new role was seen as a way to equalise the power balance between Fine Gael and Labour at the heart of Government. She has primary responsibility for running the Economic Management Council. She co-ordinates the Government’s engagement with the EU. She is competent, energetic, organised and personable. Harry McGee

NIALL Ó DONNCHU
Assistant secretary general, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
When it comes to the arts, Niall Ó Donnchú is the most powerful civil servant in the country. His remit includes arts, film, music and cultural institutions, a post he has held since 2005. Ó Donnchú has a combative reputation and was previously on the boards of Limerick City of Culture and the National Concert Hall. He is currently on the boards or advisory committees of Culture Ireland and Energy Action Ireland. According to one arts insider: “It’s a phenomenal amount of control to be distilled into one individual.” Laurence Mackin

SEAN Ó FOGHLU
Secretary general, Department of Education and Skills
Education commentators describe Ó Foghlú as the best person for decades to hold the position. He is described as having a solid understanding of the brief, after two years. He is a good match for Ruairí Quinn, given that both believe strongly in the reform agenda the department is pursuing in the Junior Cycle and the higher-education sector, among others. Dick Ahlstrom

 

THE BUSINESS PEOPLE

fergFEARGAL O'ROURKE
Head of tax, PricewaterhouseCoopers
O’Rourke advises multinationals on their tax issues in Ireland. These are reputed to include Google and Intel. US groups have drawn criticism on Capitol Hill for using Irish subsidiaries to minimise their tax burden, but O’Rourke, a son of the former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke, is a defender of the Irish regime. He has sat on the Commission on Taxation and on the board of Forfás, the State body for industrial policy. Arthur Beesley

LOUISE PHELAN
Vice-president of global operations, PayPal
In addition to her PayPal role, Phelan is president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, which packs the mightiest punch of any business lobby group here. The US invests more than $200 billion in Ireland, so when the American Chamber speaks, Ministers lean in. The Laois woman sits on the implementation body for the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and the National Competitiveness Council. Mark Paul

JOHN HERLIHY 
Vice-president of global ad operations, Google
Google, the corporate hipster, is Ireland’s sexiest calling card when officials tout abroad for investment. Herlihy, a softly spoken Cork man, is the country’s chief Googler. He oversees sales for half of the world from its Dublin headquarters, where about 3,000 people work and where the recession never entered. His opinions on investment, innovation and higher education are highly sought by the Government. Mark Paul

denDENIS O'BRIEN
Businessman
One of five Irish citizens on the Forbes annual Rich List, the billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien is the biggest owner of commercial media assets in Ireland. His Communicorp group owns the radio stations Today FM and Newstalk, among others, and, with a 29.9 per cent stake, he is also the biggest shareholder in Independent News & Media. O’Brien was the founder of Esat Digifone, which won the second mobile-phone licence in 1995; he made €295 million from the sale of Esat a few years later. He has established the Jamaica-based telecom company Digicel. He is tax resident in Malta. Laura Slattery

 

THE OUTSIDERS

angelaANGELA MERKEL
Chancellor of Germany
Dr Merkel does not contend directly with Irish life, but she wields huge power nonetheless. As the pre-eminent political figure in Europe, she set the scope of the response to the euro-zone debt crisis. This determined both the parameters and the principles for the Irish bailout. The chancellor had the final say in every argument about loan concessions and measures for the banks. The fiscal treaty, on which the Irish people voted in 2012, was Merkel’s brainchild. Arthur Beesley

MARIO DRAGHI
President, European Central Bank
Thanks to the ECB’s emergency support for Ireland’s banks, Draghi and his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet have had an extraordinarily powerful bearing on Ireland’s fortunes. While the Irish banks needed the ECB to stay afloat, Trichet faced down two attempts by Dublin to impose losses on senior bank bondholders. This increased the burden on Irish taxpayers. It was only under Draghi that the ECB agreed to scrap the Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes, but not before a long negotiation. We live with all those actions to this day. Arthur Beesley


THE LOBBY LEADERS

dannyDANNY McCOY
Director general, Ibec

The influence of the largest business lobby group has waned slightly as the social partnership that characterised the boom is held in abeyance. But Ibec still holds sway. An economist, McCoy knows the issues, and his views carry weight. Last year McCoy advised the Government to moderate austerity. This week consumer confidence reached its highest level in more than six years. Mark Paul

EDDIE DOWNEY
President, Irish Farmers’ Association
Downey, from Slane, Co Meath, became president of the Irish Farmers’ Association last month and will be the voice of its 88,000 members for the next four years. He leads a group that has often been described as one of the three most powerful organisations in the State. With the demand for food production set to soar in line with the growing global population, the influence of the IFA is unlikely to abate. Alison Healy


THE CLERGY

DIARMUID MARTIN
Catholic Archbishop of Dublin
By far the most influential religious figure in Ireland and archbishop of its largest Catholic diocese, Martin returned, reluctantly, to his native Dublin in 2003 after almost 27 years at the centre of Rome. He brought the confidence of experience as well as a 21st-century attitude to a beleagured Irish church. His leadership on the abuse issue has been consistent and unequivocal. A natural ecumenist, he is also a pragmatic prelate. Patsy McGarry


charles brownCHARLES BROWN
Nuncio
Archbishop Brown helped select six bishops appointed in Ireland last year and will oversee 11 further replacements, expected through age and illness, this year and in 2015. A native New Yorker with an Irish-American mother, his appointment to Ireland in 2011 was a surprise, as he did not belong to the Vatican’s diplomatic corps; it was by personal request of Pope Benedict. Patsy McGarry


THE STATE BROADCASTER

NOEL CURRAN
Director-general, RTÉ
After a brief spell in the independent sector, Noel Curran returned to RTÉ in 2011 as director-general, a €250,000-a-year job that involves serving as editor-in-chief and appointing the key people who decide what we watch and listen to on the most popular TV and radio stations. He has faced a financial crisis and two editorial scandals, arising from Prime Time Investigates and the presidential debate on The Frontline. Under Government orders, Curran’s RTÉ has slashed its operating costs and retains a central role in Irish society. The former business journalist’s term has been extended until 2018. Laura Slattery


THE UNION LEADERS

shaySHAY CODY
Secretary general, Impact
In the public service, union leaders play a significant role. Shay Cody is secretary general of Impact, the country’s largest public-service union, with about 60,000 members. He is chairman of the public-service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He was chief negotiator on the staff side in the talks that led to the Haddington Road agreement, which covers 300,000 staff. He now serves on the national body to oversee the implementation of the deal, which aims to save about €1 billion by 2015 while guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies. Martin Wall

JACK O'CONNOR
General president, Siptu
Trade-union leaders don’t have the influence they had during the era of social partnership. But O’Connor, head of the country’s largest union, with about 200,000 members in the public and private sectors, will be a key figure in any new talks on a national wage deal, mooted by some in the industrial-relations world over recent weeks. He has been general president of Siptu since 2003, and was re-elected in 2011 for a third term. Siptu is engaged in a drive for pay increases across the private sector in a bid to recover ground lost during the crisis. Martin Wall

 

THE REGULATORS

PATRICK HONOHAN
Governor, Central Bank of Ireland
A respected economist, Honohan went on RTÉ radio in late 2010 to tell the country that Ireland was seeking a bailout from the EU and IMF, while the then government was denying that negotiations were taking place. Honohan was appointed in 2009 for a seven-year term. He was a key adviser to the Government on our exit from the bailout and the dramatic liquidation, a year ago, of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. Ciaran Hancock

cyril rouxCYRIL ROUX
Financial regulator, Central Bank of Ireland
The Frenchman took over as deputy governor and head of financial regulation at the Central Bank of Ireland last October. He will have a busy year, including a pan-European round of bank-capital stress tests. He has to decide what action to take in relation to RSA’s insurance operation in Ireland, which was found to have a big capital shortfall last year. In Paris he was first deputy secretary general of ACPR, the French prudential supervisory authority for banks and insurers. Ciaran Hancock


THE SPORTS ADMINISTRATOR

PARAIC DUFFY
Director general, GAA
Previously a school principal in his native Co Monaghan, Duffy has a reputation for openness, energy and efficiency. Appointed in early 2008, he has been a capable manager in financially challenging times. He has played a progressive role in the organisation’s attempt to deal with the emergence of the Gaelic Players’ Association and the reshaping of the intercounty Championship. He was a longstanding supporter of opening Croke Park to other sports. He has overseen the development of the GAA, with its membership of some 750,000 here, enhanced its position at the heart of Ireland’s sporting and cultural life, and maintained its influence in society. Emmet Malone

 

THE AGENCY BOSSES


trDr TRACEY COOPER
Chief executive, Health Information and Quality Authority
In a dysfunctional health system, Hiqa, under Cooper’s leadership, has been a champion of patient safety and probity. Cooper was previously director of operations for the NHS clinical governance support team in England. Among her successes are the inquiries into the treatment of the breast-cancer patient Rebecca O’Malley, the delayed reporting of X-rays at Tallaght hospital and the death of Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital. Muiris Houston


joJOHN CORRIGAN
Chief executive, National Treasury Management Agency
Corrigan is responsible for managing Ireland’s national debt. He was a key adviser to the Government on our re-entry to capital markets on exiting the EU-ECB-IMF bailout at the end of last year. Corrigan succeeded Michael Somers in December 2009, having joined the agency 18 years earlier. He was initially responsible for managing the domestic component of our national debt before helping to establish the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2001. He earned a salary of €416,500 in 2012 and has waived his bonus for the past four years. He is due to step down in December. Ciaran Hancock

BARRY O'LEARY
Chief executive, IDA Ireland
O’Leary took up the job at the end of 2007. In the economic maelstrom of the following years the Government turned to his agency to rebalance the economy back towards exports. The IDA delivered, and last year helped to attract 13,000 new jobs to Ireland. Mild-mannered O’Leary regularly breaks bread with senior figures at the world’s biggest companies. If the Government wants to send a message to a US boardroom, or vice versa, O’Leary is the obvious intermediary. Last month he announced his intention to step down. Mark Paul

Brendan mcdonaghBRENDAN McDONAGH
Chief executive, National Asset Management Agency
Nama is regarded as the biggest property-management group in the world. McDonagh was appointed in late 2009, just before Nama was formally established as a vehicle to take toxic loans off the balance sheets of Irish-owned banks. Its remit is about to be widened as it takes on the rump of loans, later this year, that are not sold by the special liquidators of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. Nama is due to wind down in 2020; McDonagh is considered a lead contender to replace John Corrigan as chief executive of the National Management Treasury Agency, later this year. McDonagh earned €365,500 in 2012, waiving his bonus. Ciaran Hancock

frFRANK DALY
Chairman, National Asset Management Agency
Daly resigned as a public-interest director of Anglo Irish Bank in late 2009 to become the first chairman of Nama. Has spent much of this year defending it against claims by certain debtors that agency officials leaked information about them. Daly joined Revenue in 1963 and became its chairman in 2002. He retired from that role in 2008, when he chaired the Commission on Taxation, set up to review the structure and efficiency of the tax system. Daly earned €150,000 as chairman of Nama in 2012. Ciaran Hancock


THE BANK LEADERS

RICHIE BOUCHER
Chief executive, Bank of Ireland
The only senior banking executive to avoid the purge of the top ranks in Irish banks after the 2008 financial crash, Zambia-born Boucher enjoyed a fruitful 2013 by repaying the State for the contingent capital notes and preference shares it held. The Government’s stake was also reduced to just below 14 per cent. This year should see Bank of Ireland return to the black. Boucher has announced plans to provide €33 billion in “new” lending here by 2017. He remains the best-paid Irish banker, with total remuneration of €843,000 in 2012. Ciaran Hancock

davDAVID DUFFY
Chief executive, Allied Irish Bank
Became president of the Irish Banking Federation at the start of this year to add to his role as chief executive of AIB. Duffy returned to Ireland in 2011 to head AIB after a long career in senior banking roles in the US, Europe and Asia. Duffy has spoken bullishly of returning AIB to profit, securing external investment and sorting out the bank’s mortgage arrears within two years. AIB took a big step towards resolving its home-loan arrears problem this week with the launch of a split mortgage that will offer debt write-offs to selected customers. Ciaran Hancock


THE LEGAL POWERS

suSUSAN DENHAM
Chief Justice, Supreme Court
The Chief Justice is the most senior judge in the State and the head of one of its most powerful institutions. Decisions of the highest court can have a profound impact on Irish society; rulings it made decades ago remain live today. Denham, the daughter of the former Irish Times editor Douglas Gageby, is the first woman to hold the position, and was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court when she joined it, in 1992. At a time of tension between the executive and the judiciary, she has a reputation for shrewd diplomacy and has been key to major reforms in the courts. Ruadhan MacCormaic


MAIRE WHELAN
Attorney general
She has a low public profile, but Whelan is one of Ireland’s most powerful women. No piece of legislation goes to Cabinet without the approval or input of the legal adviser to the Government, giving her a span of influence wider than that of most Ministers. It was on the advice of Whelan, a senior counsel with ties to the Labour Party, that the Government decided to hold a referendum on the fiscal treaty, and her office was closely involved in drafting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which she steered through the Council of State. Ruadhan MacCormaic

claire loftusCLAIRE LOFTUS
Director of Public Prosecutions
The DPP enforces Ireland’s criminal law in the courts. She decides whether or not to prosecute, and on what charges, putting her in a key position of influence within the legal system and the wider State apparatus. Her office also advises An Garda Síochána. Loftus qualified as a solicitor in 1992 and became DPP in 2011. She is the first woman and the first solicitor to hold the position. Ruadhan MacCormaic

NICHOLAS KEARNS
President of the High Court
The High Court has become bigger and busier over recent years. As its most senior judge, Kearns manages the court and chooses which judges handles each case list. He also hears some of the court’s most sensitive and high-profile cases. The president of the High Court sits on the Council of State and is the person to substitute for the Chief Justice on the Presidential Commission, the body that takes over the functions of the President when the office is vacant or the head of State is unavailable. Ruadhan MacCormaic


THE SECURITY FORCES

MARTIN CALLINAN
Commissioner, An Garda Siochána
Callinan is responsible for a 13,000-strong force charged with preventing and detecting crime, and preventing and gathering intelligence about terror threats, a function carried out by dedicated security services in other parts of the world. As the accounting officer of the Garda he is also responsible for the allocation of its budget. He is under pressure to secure convictions arising from some high-profile white-collar alleged offences dating back to the collapse of the economy. He has been tested in public recently when quizzed by the Public Accounts Committee on the penalty-points controversy. With the Garda Ombudsman now investigating the issue, and relations between it and the force at a low, the outcome of the debacle may define his term in office. Conor Lally


Gen Vonor O'BoyleLIEUT GEN CONOR O'BOYLE
Chief of Staff, Defence Forces
Appointed last August, O’Boyle is head of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, with a combined strength of about 9,500. He commands forces whose highest-profile work is UN peacekeeping, with Irish troops currently in Syria on what is regarded as one of its highest-risk missions in many years. But its work aiding the civil power is also significant, and in a time of natural disaster he would rapidly jump up the list of Ireland’s most powerful and significant figures. He is regarded by many as very articulate and perfectly skilled to raise the profile of the Defence Forces, through the media, as it competes for reduced resources. Conor Lally

 

 

 

The top 50: how we came up with this list

 

This top 50 list of Who Runs Ireland was devised by a panel of ‘Irish Times’ journalists with expertise in a variety of fields, including Political News Editor Arthur Beesley, Legal Affairs Correspondent Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, Washington Correspondent Simon Carswell and Features Editor Conor Goodman.

We are a small country with an open economy, and the presence on the list of multinational employers, an officer of the Vatican and two foreign politicians reflects the strength of these external influences.
But almost everybody on the list – we have chosen to name individuals rather than institutions – works in the Republic of Ireland. We have limited it to the Republic, as the complex power-sharing institutions of Northern Ireland would require a separate list.

We have selected people who make big decisions that affect our lives – Ministers, for example – or, as advisers and civil servants, play a key role in those decisions.

Holders of the main posts in the judiciary and legal system feature heavily, due in many cases to their constitutional roles. People with major financial muscle or who command significant people power, such as union leaders , also feature. 

 

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