Ministers of State will come down to geography

Analysis: Enda Kenny must play a careful game with his ministerial appointments

Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin. File  photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will need one essential piece of kit with him when making his final decisions on who he will appoint as Ministers of State. And that is a map of Ireland.

Hidden among the Fine Gael backbench TDs, there could well be a politician with the charisma of a Clinton, the brains of an Einstein, and the political savvy of a Merkel.

Yet, he or she is not going to be promoted if there’s already a senior or junior Minister squatted in their constituency.

It’s a peculiar quirk – admittedly one of many – of the Irish political system that geography plays a significant part in the make-up of the enlarged cabinet.

It’s not that each of the 40 constituencies should be entitled to a ministry.

However, if a particular region of the country, or a big county such as Cork, Galway or Donegal, has no minister, it inevitably leads to blowback and resentment, from both TDs who have been ignored and the local membership.

There tends to be an innate bias towards Dublin in the senior cabinet.

Seven of the current senior Ministers are based in the capital. There were also seven Dublin-based ministers in the last government.

As a result the Minister of State positions tend to be more geographically dispersed. The name of the game is that no region will be left behind.

For technocrats, it is puzzling and makes no sense. But within the logic of the Irish political system, it is a no-brainer.

A taoiseach who ignores this consideration will create enemies within.

Fiercest rival

However, there are no hard and fast rules in this regard. For example, in the normal course of events, a Taoiseach coming from Mayo would mean there was no preferment for any other TDs there.

But this doesn’t take account of Michael Ring, who is both the Taoiseach’s close constituency colleague and also his fiercest rival. Leaving Mr Ring out of the appointments would involve a long battle of attrition in Mayo.

The political calculus will also mean a Fine Gael “marker” might be needed to counteract an Independent Minister taking all the glory in a particular region.

Thus, the unexpected name of John Deasy in Waterford has hoved into view, principally because there will be an Independent junior Minister, John Halligan, based there.

It will look bad for Fine Gael locally if Halligan is the Minister doling out all the political good tidings.

Mr Deasy has been a persistent critic of Kenny’s over the years, but could make it, partly on geographical criteria.

Meath looks like it might shape up to be a headache for the Taoiseach.

Kenny has made a big play over getting the gender balance right. There are three obvious experienced female Fine Gael TDs in line for junior Minister positions.

Offaly’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy is a shoo-in and it is also likely that Dublin South Central’s Catherine Byrne will get a promotion.

The third is Helen McEntee in Meath East, who is highly regarded by the Taoiseach.

However, if she is promoted, it may mean that all three Fine Gael TDs in Meath are Ministers.

Regina Doherty from Meath East has already been appointed as Chief Whip and one of the four outgoing Ministers of State is Damien English from Meath West, who could be reappointed.

That would lead to a hue and cry in neighbouring constituencies such as Louth and Kildare South, where Fergus O’Dowd and Martin Heydon would be the obvious candidates for positions.

Dropping Damien English would not go down well within the party either.

Despite the fact that there is no junior coalition partner, there is stiff competition for the available Cabinet places and a lot of youngish ambitious Fine Gael TDs who think their time has come.

Women

If the four outgoing Ministers of State – Ring, English, Dara Murphy from Cork North Central and Joe McHugh from Donegal – are reappointed, it means that only six vacancies are open.

Three ministers have already been appointed and Independents have been promised two positions.

It is expected that at least two, if not three, of the Fine Gael appointments will be women: Corcoran Kennedy, Byrne and (possibly) McEntee. That will leave only three or four remaining vacancies for the party.

The strongest contenders are Seán Kyne (Galway West) and Eoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South), who were actively involved in the negotiations for Government.

Others who have a strong claim are Martin Heydon (Kildare South), John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), David Stanton (Cork East), and Deasy.

However, Fine Gael insiders say it is unlikely both Phelan and Deasy would be promoted, as their bases are comparatively close together.

Ability

Jim Daly (Cork South West) and David Stanton (Cork East) would have no difficulties in terms of ability.

Their problem is that Cork already has two senior Ministers and a junior, and it might be difficult for them to push for any more.

Likewise, supporters of the highly-rated Brendan Griffin (Kerry) have made a strong case for his inclusion on a geographical argument.

A similar argument has been made on behalf of Pat Breen in Clare and Fergus O’Dowd in Louth.

Interestingly, both constituencies returned two Fine Gael TDs.

Several Fine Gael TDs suggested on Wednesday Kenny might be persuaded to increase the number of Ministers of State from 15 to 17, or even 20.

However, if he were to increase it to 20, he would be open to accusations of pork-barrel politics, as that was the number of junior ministers in Fianna Fáil-led governments before the crash.

A total of 17 might just be politically tolerable.

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