Number of junior posts likely to remain at existing level

Thu, Mar 10, 2011, 00:00

MINISTERS OF STATE:FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny said during the general election campaign that the number of ministers of State would be reduced from 15 to 12 in a government led by his party.

However, the programme for government is silent on the number of ministers of State to be appointed and indications last night were that the existing number would be retained.

Ministers of State were increased to 17 during the rainbow coalition between 1994 and 1997 and again increased to 20 by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2007. However, in April 2009 former taoiseach Brian Cowen reduced the number to 15.

Two Ministers of State – Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe of Fine Gael and so-called “super-junior” Willie Penrose of Labour – have already been appointed.

That means that 13 posts remain to be filled and the expectation is they will be filled at roughly the same ratio as senior portfolios – with either 10 or nine of the 15 going to Fine Gael and the remaining five or six going to Labour.

Unlike senior ministries, the ministers of State are not appointed by the Taoiseach but by the Cabinet as a whole. The decisions are likely to have been taken after the first formal Cabinet meeting in Áras an Uachtaráin last night or early next week, if a meeting is scheduled on Tuesday.

The first concern that will be addressed by both leaders is the gender balance of ministries and the geographical allocation of portfolios.

Sources in Fine Gael said that at least four of the nine ministers of State would come from constituencies in the western half of the country to correct a Dublin bias in the senior Cabinet.

Those who have been mentioned for promotion include Mayo TD Michael Ring; Dublin South West TD Brian Hayes; Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd; Cork East TD David Stanton; Laois-Offaly TD Charlie Flanagan and Donegal South West veteran Dinny McGinley.

There is also the possibility that Mr Kenny may select one of the more prominent new TDs, with Nicky McFadden from Longford Westmeath and Regina Doherty in Meath East being mentioned.

On the Labour side, a number of prominent spokesmen and women from the last Dáil are being tipped. They include Dublin North West TD Róisín Shortall, Limerick City TD Jan O’Sullivan and Seán Sherlock from Cork East.

Others who have been mentioned for possible promotion are new TDs Alan Kelly from Tipperary North, Tralee-based Arthur Spring and barrister Alex White, who was elected in Dublin South.

There are a number of junior roles that are high profile – namely the post with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and also the minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs. However, some of the latter’s responsibilities have been subsumed into an enlarged Department of Social Protection and that Minister may not have the responsibilities of his or her predecessor.