Enda’s jobs for the boys shows pork barrel politics is back
There is no rationale for 15 FG Ministers of State other than keeping ambitious TDs sweet
By appointing 18 junior ministers, Enda Kenny has stretched the toleration point to its limits, and possibly beyond. All the more so because 15 of the Ministers of State are from his own party, Fine Gael. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
As Taoiseach Enda Kenny reeled off the list of new Ministers of State in the Dáil on Thursday evening, it wasn’t the individual names that commanded most attention but the numbers.
When he named Joe McHugh as Minister for the Diaspora, the number of new junior Ministers stood at 15. He kept on going. Naming Michael Ring. And then Catherine Byrne. And finally David Stanton before he stopped.
There were 18 in total. Not quite Bertie Ahern at the height of the boom in 2007, when 20 were named. But a far cry from the more modest 13 juniors who remained in situ after the economy crashed, or the 15 of the last government.
So what is the rationale behind it?
In his speech the Taoiseach threw out a wan sentence that did not amount to a justification. Health was crucially important so there would be four – yes, four – Ministers assigned to health.
After all the travails of the recession years, what was the lesson the political class learned? Essentially, it seems to be that pork barrel politics never really dies, nor even fades away for that matter.
Ahern introduced legislation to increase the maximum number to 20 nearly a decade ago. That is the law which still applies although no government since then dared to go anywhere near that number.
By appointing 18, Kenny has stretched the toleration point to its limits, and possibly beyond. All the more so because 15 of the Ministers of State are from his own party, Fine Gael.
There is no rationale for it other than not to disappoint too many of his ambitious deputies who have bided their time impatiently in the government back benches.
Fine Gael might argue that it had to increase its quota because it gave three junior jobs to four Independents. That might have been a ploy to corral them in, to make them think twice before abandoning ship. But that too isn’t exactly new politics, rather old-fashioned deal-making.
And still after all that, there are injustices, both real and perceived.
Kenny has omitted some of the party’s brighter prospects and the selection reflects a big regional imbalance.
For example all three TDs from Meath (Helen McEntee, Regina Doherty and Damien English) are now Ministers.
Aside from anything else, it could it could be argued that at least one of them should have been appointed to counterbalance John Halligan, who will now have a free run with announcements and priorities.
There’s no junior either for Kerry, with the risk that more political territory will be ceded to the Healy-Raes.
Four of the 18 Ministers of State are women when you include the already-appointed Doherty. McEntee’s appointment was a slight surprise but both Catherine Byrne and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy were widely tipped for promotion.
The elevation of Séan Kyne and Eoghan Murphy was recognition of the work during the government talks done by two of the party’s rising stars.
The promotion of Andrew Doyle, Pat Breen and Stanton was widely welcomed. The three are hard working and highly regarded but less showy than many of their colleagues. Patrick O’Donovan is also very capable but will have a hard act to follow in Tourism and Sport (Ring, now at rural affairs was the previous incumbent).
Generally, the selection was more about the quantity than the quality. Kenny is lucky that Ahern’s generous 2007 law is still in operation. Because if this piece of opportunism had gone to the Dáil, it would have been voted down.