Miriam Lord: Taoiseach now faces wrath of the Angry Birds
Kenny overlooked his female TDs’ claims for junior ministries
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton greet Michael Ring as he joins fellow ministers of State on the steps of Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke.
“Mickeys missing!” shouted Enda, trying to be helpful.
We scanned the ranks of the newly promoted Ministers of State arrayed on the steps in front of Government Buildings.
“Eh, no, don’t think they are, Taoiseach – if you get our drift . . . ” responded The Irish Times, bawdily going where no woman has gone in Fine Gael’s second ministerial string.
Not one female in the Taoiseach’s chosen batch of nine.
Then the apostrophe landed. Right, gotcha now. “Mickey’s missing.”
For he was talking about Michael Ring, who was supposed to be there for the family photo, but hadn’t landed yet.
But you can see how confusion might arise on the gender front. Thoughts turned to Margaret Thatcher’s famous remark when she promoted William Whitelaw: “Every prime minister needs a Willie.”
So where was Ringo, one of the few to retain his job as a junior minister?
“He doesn’t like the limelight,” suggested someone. That got a laugh.
Or perhaps he was still inside the building, with Enda’s backroom boys frantically trying to zip him into a dress.
As it turned out, Ring was stuck in traffic, on his way back from the RDS where he had just launched this year’s Dublin Horse Show.
Paul Kehoe, the Government Chief Whip phoned him for an update.
“Where is he now?” asked the Taoiseach.
“He’s at the lights. I think they’re the same lights he was at 10 minutes ago” said Paul.
Finally, Ringo arrived arms swinging as he barrelled through the courtyard giving thumbs up to the cameras before puffing to a stop at the foot of the steps.
The public might not care, but these jobs are a big deal on the Government side of the House. Among backbenchers, expectations of a call-up to the senior ranks are low. But it’s a far more open competition when it comes to picking the Ministers of State.
A lot of backbenchers have worked hard in the last couple of years in the hope of catching their leader’s eye.
Some embraced the thankless task of going out to bat on the airwaves for the Coalition after some of their dodgier decisions. Others championed issues in areas such as health and education, organising public meetings and producing discussion papers.
Yesterday, they hoped their efforts might be rewarded with “the half car” – a phrase denoting their reduced ministerial status.
When the announcement of the new appointments came around, there were quite a few disgruntled backbenchers wondering why they bothered.
On the Taoiseach’s side, Ciarán Cannon was fired, leaving Galway without any ministerial representation in the Dáil.
Fergus O’Dowd, who would have nursed hopes of a senior call-up, was asked to stand down. John Perry, whose financial problems caused a spot of bother recently, was not an unexpected casualty, and Dinny McGinley, approaching his 70th birthday, accepted his fate and said he’d had a good innings.
Dinny was spokesman for the Gaeltacht, and his Irish is perfect. His replacement, fellow Donegalman Joe McHugh, hasn’t much Irish.
Not that this bothered the Taoiseach, who needs to keep a half car in Donegal to counteract Sinn Féin.
McHugh will take a “refresher course”, Enda blithely told an almost apoplectic Éamon Ó Cuív of Fianna Fáil.
The forlorn five have something else in common – they’re all, in varying degrees, getting a bit long in the tooth. Their fate led to an outbreak of WB Yeats among sympathetic male colleagues of a certain age as they went about muttering “This is no country for old men.”
Apart from his new Cabinet Minister Heather Humphreys – who still looked shocked yesterday – the Taoiseach completely overlooked his female deputies’ claims for advancement to junior positions.
The Labour Party was decidedly smug about their part in the reshuffle. In fact, had it not been for their contingent on the steps – Tánaiste Joan Burton, Ann Phelan and Kathleen Lynch, the family photo would have been a total embarrassment, with or without Enda’s missing Mickey.
Does it matter a whit?
We’re talking about Ministers of State, so probably not.
But Fine Gael’s female TDs – with their Senators in full support – were deeply unhappy yesterday afternoon.
It wasn’t long before Leinster House wags, with a very non-PC nod to the hugely popular video game, had christened them The Angry Birds.
There were a lot of happy faces around too.
Hayes was described as “prematurely waistcoated” after he arrived on the political scene fresh-faced but speaking with the gravitas of a politician twice his age. Harris (27) is in the same mould.
He has landed the top job as Michael Noonan’s sweeper in the Department of Finance.
His excellent performance in the European elections will have helped his cause, but his impressive performances at the Public Accounts Committee won’t have gone unnoticed either.
The elevation of Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin had independent TD Finian McGrath bemoaning his lot in political life to anyone who would listen. “I’ve a senior and junior minister on my patch now,” he wailed. “I won’t have a chance in the next election.”
The old sympathy trick.
It could work wonders for Finian in Dublin Bay North.
Aodhán was delighted, but his joy was tempered by the fact that his wife Aine Kerr, managing editor of Storyful, was in New York yesterday.
“She’s gone for three weeks. She asked if she should stay around, just in case, but I told her I’d no chance of getting anything.”
Speaking of no chances, Fine Gael’s “five a-side” group of young, ambitious TDs were left on the bench. That won’t help their mood.
Michael Ring, though, was in flying form. “When I was launching the Horse Show in the RDS I told them: ‘This is the one show that’s definitely going on for five nights.”
He was quietly confident of keeping his job. He’d said a prayer before leaving Mayo.
“Our Lady of Knock looked after me,” said Ringo. Which is more than she did for the ladies of Leinster House.