Fine Gael reshuffle signals make or break time for Kenny

Opinion: Giving the European Commissionership to Hogan in line with expectations gives Kenny more space to rebrand his Government

‘Attention is focused on the fortunes of James Reilly with a general consensus emerging that he will cease to be Minister for Health next week. Reilly is an issue politician and health, in particular universal health insurance, is his issue.’ Above, Reilly  at the launch of the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance earlier this year. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

‘Attention is focused on the fortunes of James Reilly with a general consensus emerging that he will cease to be Minister for Health next week. Reilly is an issue politician and health, in particular universal health insurance, is his issue.’ Above, Reilly at the launch of the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance earlier this year. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 00:01

After five messy months, a very bad outcome in the local and European elections and a month of stagnation since polling day, the Government gets a chance next week to steady and refocus.

The election of a new Labour Party leader yesterday and the Cabinet reshuffle due in coming days, heralds some prospect at least of rebooting the Government and containing the haemorrhage in political support suffered by its two component parties.

Inevitably there has been much focus in recent weeks on the prospects for the junior Coalition partner. Fine Gael, however, also sustained substantial losses in the local elections and the party’s impressive looking European election performance owes much to disastrous vote management by Fianna Fáil in Ireland South.

The fact that Fine Gael came to within 1,149 votes of losing its European Parliament seat in Dublin has given many of the party’s newer deputies in the capital pause for thought about their own electoral demise. Enda Kenny, therefore, has as much riding on this reshuffle as the new Labour leader has.

Saving Fine Gael’s fortunes will require more than just a change of faces in Government, but new faces will help. Cabinet reshuffles usually pass comfortably and provide a necessary injection of new energy and novelty media value. Taoisigh are usually content if they manage that.

Sometimes, if accompanied by other measures, reshuffles can prove even more successful. The scenario Kenny needs is something akin to the “Inchydoney repositioning” that Bertie Ahern achieved for his government in 2004. Having dispatched Charlie McCreevy to the European Commission and changed a couple of other ministers, Ahern talked much about being a socialist and invited Fr Sean Healy to address a party think-in at the west Cork resort. He thereby managed to launch a recovery in his party’s fortunes that saw him return to power in the 2007 general election.

The nightmare scenario to be avoided for Kenny is anything that is reminiscent of Garret FitzGerald’s Cabinet reshuffle in 1986, which detonated spectacularly when Labour’s Barry Desmond refused to move portfolios and FitzGerald’s authority was left badly damaged.

Own choosing

When it comes to the Labour side of the Cabinet, Ruairí Quinn’s resignation makes things even easier for his new leader. Quinn cleverly got to announce his going at a time of his own choosing, thereby generating a news cycle of well-earned plaudits for his political career that would otherwise have been buried in reshuffle rubble.

Labour circles are now full of speculation of even more dramatic changes, including the potential appointment of a Senator to the Cabinet, which would be an interesting twist less than a year after the Taoiseach sought to abolish the Upper House.

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