Enda, Joan and the new Cabinet are politely asked to move a little to the left

The long-awaited reshuffle brings just the barest structural alterations

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton at the first Cabinet meeting of newly appointed Ministers yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton at the first Cabinet meeting of newly appointed Ministers yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:01

In the State Reception Room in Áras an Uachtaráin, an insightful photographer made a telling request.

“Could you all move a little to the left?”

And in deference to him – and a shift in Government policy – the ranks of the reshuffled sidled a little closer to the social side of recovery.

Joan Burton will claim the credit for that.

Enda Kenny, meanwhile, was about to announce a radical plan for the way forward. “We will roll out a four-point plan to make work pay.” Where did we hear that before?

In a feverish day of rumour and speculation in Leinster House, everyone waited for the appearance of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste’s new frontbench line-up. After weeks of hype, it turned out to be much ado about not a lot.

When Enda Kenny finally unveiled his long awaited “new Cabinet” it looked suspiciously like the old one after a reconditioning visit to the French polishers.

It had been freshened up, with just the barest structural alteration and a rearrangement of the original shelving.

A touch of woodworm saw Jimmy Deenihan cut out and replaced by Paschal Donohoe, Phil Hogan was removed for display in the European glass-case and the unknown Heather Humphreys was slotted in seamlessly with the existing old wood.

Labour refurbishment

Joan Burton did a much more thorough job on her side. Brendan Howlin was kept for continuity, but Eamon Gilmore, Ruairí Quinn and Pat Rabbitte dumped. Pat took considerable exception to this.

In came Alan Kelly, Alex White and Jan O’Sullivan, with a special curlicue carved for Drogheda’s Ged Nash to balance the permanent adornment of Richard Bruton on the Fine Gael side.

Young Ged is a special added feature known as a “Super Junior”, which means he is part of the Cabinet but does not have voting rights. In an homage to the classic 1980s cartoon series, he shall henceforth be known as “SuperGed.”

Simon Coveney, who got Agriculture and Defence, was immediately christened the Minister for Arms and Farms.

The big loser in this cosmetic enhancement of the same old lump of furniture was Rabbitte.

Jimmy Deenihan was given a consolation package of a junior ministry with responsibility for the diaspora – a passport to travel the world for Ireland.

He still looked gutted.

The next time Enda goes cycling around the Ring of Kerry for him he might get a few more punctures than he bargained for.

The departing minister for communications did not want to go. But Burton, his new boss, cut him loose with clinical precision. In a memorable post-parting radio interview, the injured Rabbitte blamed “age and chemistry” as the reason for his dismissal.

The Tánaiste (slightly older than Rabbitte) reportedly told him it was “time to make way for the Generation of 2011”.

As for the chemistry bit, Pat’s disclosure that his conversation with Joan lasted all of 20 seconds goes a way towards explaining the less than harmonious relationship between the two.

The big winner yesterday was Phil Hogan. All day, Big Phil wore the broad smile of a Kilkenny cat wallowing in a bucket of cream. And why not?

While the rest of the anointed – from Enda and Joan down – will have to work their socks off for the next couple of years to win back the support of the electorate, cute old Phil is swanning off to Europe with four guaranteed years as Ireland’s commissioner.

Reshuffle mania

There wasn’t a tap of work done in the Dáil yesterday as the entire place succumbed to reshuffle mania.

Journalists lost the plot, gorging on rumours and engaging in lunatic bouts of tweeting. Speculation climbed to ridiculous heights.

“Pat Rabbitte is very sore at being dropped” was one of the earliest snippets to emerge.

Richard Bruton was said to be fighting a vicious rearguard action to stay with his Jobs portfolio. He had refused, point blank apparently, to move to Health.

At midday, Mary Mitchell O’Connor entered the reckoning. Was she about to be elevated from the backbenches to a senior ministry?

The gallery was packed for the big reveal. Before the show began, Mitchell O’Connor arrived, majestic in shades of orange, like a ship in full sail. She hadn’t made it this time.

It was Heather Humphreys got the nod. “Heather who?” asked the hacks, running off to read up on the Monaghan backbencher.

Heather looked more surprised than anyone. She was in her office, minding her own business, when she got the call at midday. As she walked into the chamber an hour later, the poor woman looked shellshocked.

She took her seat beside Paschal Donohoe – His Master’s Voice – who was all delighted dimples and neat first communion hair. Heather sat motionless, staring into the distance with a stricken look on her face. It was nearly 40 minutes before she moved and that was when she saw her daughter Eva rushing breathlessly into the public gallery to witness her big moment.

Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar, the new Minister for Health, spent most of his time reading text messages on his phone and smirking.

He’s off to walk the Camino for three weeks. He’ll need the time to reflect. Health? “I’m not sure I’ll be able to turn the poisoned chalice into sweet wine,” he said afterwards.

The new Ministers were giddy with excitement when they were bussed to the Áras to receive their seals of office.

Yesterday was a happy day for them, but there are tough times ahead.

Tough times for everyone, bar lucky Phil Hogan.

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