Which Government party won the reshuffle?

Retention of jobs portfolio may benefit FG but Labour’s tax reform proposals strong

The new line-up: Cabinet members at a ceremony in Aras an Uachtarain after Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton reshuffled the Government team. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times.

The new line-up: Cabinet members at a ceremony in Aras an Uachtarain after Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton reshuffled the Government team. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times.

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 18:27

Like Tom Crean’s epic passage across the frozen Antarctic, the small band of Labour and Fine Gael negotiators ended up on a tortuous and dramatic journey that took five days.

You wonder though if both sides actually saw the same destination at the end of the fifth day - the political version of a relatively safe harbour such as South Georgia.

On the day of the announcement - before the full details of the new mini Programme for Government are announced or parsed - it is difficult to give anything other than a Pavlovian reaction.

In reality, there is no discernible winner or loser but on the face of it at least Fine Gael has had a good day, with a lot of focus honing in on its success in retaining the jobs portfolio.

There were two elements to the reconfiguration that came with the elevation of Joan Burton to the leadership of the Labour Party.

The first was to identify what the Government’s main priorities should be between now and the Spring of 2016, when the Coalition’s term comes to an end.

The second was the reshuffle. It involved more than a change of personnel but also a fair deal of bartering on which party should control key departments.

It was let known during the week that a few departments might be in play. The principal one was the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which Labour made a bid for.

Both parties view this department as key and, like it did before when Labour tried to introduce a new rate of Universal Social Charge for those earning over €100,000, Fine Gael held firm. And, on top of that, when the incumbent Minister Richard Bruton got wind of an attempt to shift him to health, a very effective rearguard action was mounted by him and his advisers.

The net effect was the department stayed in Fine Gael’s hands with Bruton staying put as minister. Labour will not see it that way but it will be perceived as a battle won for Fine Gael.

The big exchange happened in another of the big departments, environment and local government where new Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly replaces the new European Commissioner Phil Hogan. Labour ceded foreign affairs, as expected, with Charlie Flanagan something of a surprise choice for that role.

Environment will be a big challenge for Kelly. It’s a huge department that deals with everything from climate change to political reform to housing to rural development. But it could be a double-edged sword as Hogan found to his cost on more than one occasions - two of the nettles Kelly will need to grasp include property charges and water charges.

Equally challenging will be the health portfolio for Leo Varadkar. Indeed that was a brave decision by Kenny, who upset the prediction that he would be cautious in his changes. It was thought that after the turbulence of the James Reilly era, the ministry might go to a safe pair of hands such as Simon Coveney or Bruton.

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