Varadkar channels his inner Bertie with jobs mainly for the boys

Taoiseach’s ‘generational change’ sees 19 junior ministers appointed - but only 3 women

 Taoiseach  Leo Varadkar has increased the number of Ministers of State  to 19, one short of Bertie Ahern’s record.  File image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has increased the number of Ministers of State to 19, one short of Bertie Ahern’s record. File image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The disclosure of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s line-up of second-tier Ministers had echoes of last week’s unveiling of the senior panel.

Despite all the maximalist rhetoric, the changes have turned out to be minimalist. Moreover, the “take home” messages seem a little disconcerting.

For one, the line-up displays a bit of creeping Bertie-ism. With the creation of a new super-junior to accommodate Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, the number of Ministers of State has been increased to 19.

That’s only one short of the record number of 20 which Bertie Ahern had in his 2007 government. Ironically, the change in legislation that facilitated such swelled ranks a decade ago, has allowed Varadkar increase the number by one without having to push through a new law.

And still for all that, the gender balance in his Cabinet has actually disimproved. With the sacking of Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, there are only three women junior Ministers out of 19. They are Mitchell O’Connor; Catherine Byrne and Helen McEntee.

Before he embarked on the exercise, Varadkar let it be known that none of the TDs first elected in 2016 would be eligible for promotion on the basis of lack of experience. That essentially precluded any woman from advancement as all the women TDs from earlier intakes - and there weren’t too many of them - were already senior or junior Ministers. With Corcoran-Kennedy’s demotion, and the replacement of Attorney General Maire Whelan with Seamus Woulfe, the gender balance has got worse.

On balance, the rule of excluding the 2016 intake does not sound too clever, given that it includes a number of very promising women TDs. Wasn’t Varadkar himself elevated to the Fine Gael front bench on the very first day he was elected?

Promotions

In all, five back bench TDs have been promoted. They are John Paul Phelan (who will have responsibility for local government and electoral reform); Jim Daly (older people and health promotion); Ciarán Cannon (Diaspora and International Development); Brendan Griffin (Tourism and Sport) and Michael Darcy (Finance and Public Expenditure).

Only two have been dropped: Corcoran-Kennedy and Dara Murphy. Both of them were Simon Coveney supporters and both were highly regarded as Ministers. But they found themselves on the wrong side of the leadership battle.

The other two Coveney supporters, Damien English and David Stanton, both survived.

Of the other six who were retained, there were some significant portfolio changes. Helen McEntee has moved to EU Affairs while Patrick O’Donovan joins Darcy as one of two juniors in Finance and Public Expenditure. Sean Kyne becomes the Minister of State in the newly-created Department of Rural Affairs, under new Minister Michael Ring.

The only big surprise among the promotions was Cannon, who was previously a junior Minister before being dropped by Enda Kenny in 2014. He is an unusual politician (and is indeed the last ever leader of the now defunct Progressive Democrats) and is a policy wonk.

But it was minimalist. Only two have been dropped which is not exactly a statement of intent. Then he does the Bertie trick of creeping incrementalism on the numbers, to bring it as close to 20 without actually going there.

Like the senior Ministers, you would have to question how some actually managed to retain their positions. And that question will certainly form on the bitter lips of those whose credentials were rebuffed. There will be at least half a dozen TDs who feel they should have got preferment.

Among them are party chairman Martin Heyden, the veteran Waterford TD John Deasy, Pat Deering; Fergus O’Dowd, and Alan Farrell.

They will join a growing group of people who feel less than thrilled about this minimalist take on the so-called generational change.

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