Miriam Lord: Junior Ministers step up for senior hurling
Ministers of State emerge fully formed from special pods in the Leinster House basement
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and the new junior Ministers at Government Buildings in Dublin. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Junior Ministers. They are hatched in special pods in the basement of Government Buildings and come out fully formed and on-message when the election season is over.
They must be watched, particularly in the early days. But some, if they don’t show too much initiative, can soon look forward to being allowed out on their own by their big Minister.
The latest clutch was due to emerge yesterday.
Would it be wrong to say that Leinster House was in a frenzy of anticipation over the Ministers of State? That the place was throbbing with the sort of excitement not seen since the apotheosis of Finian McGrath two weeks ago?
But it was better than listening to hours of speeches on Dáil reform. Particularly when, back in the steaming bowels of Government Buildings, the pods were cracking and creaking and ready to pop.
Not before time. Enda Kenny sat on them for far longer than expected.
The political twitchers of Kildare Street held vigil all day, scanning the horizon for sightings, eager to see what treasures would burst forth once the Taoiseach decided it was time.
He was supposed to be leading in his new brood in the early afternoon. But nothing happened. People were fainting in the corridors with anticipation.
Last-minute hitchThen word got out that there was a last- minute hitch and the Independents were fighting to have another name added to the list of new Ministers of State. But this wasn’t true.
A much more likely explanation was that a number of them hatched prematurely and tried to eat each other.
The appointed time was moved to 5.30pm. Various names were floated by the watching twitchers. Soon, they would be put out of their misery.
And even sooner, it seemed, when a number of Fianna Fáil TDs belted into the chamber having been instructed to be there for an announcement at 4.45pm.
Not that many Fianna Fáilers, actually, because it wasn’t their party giving out the jobs.
Both deadlines came and went. Education questions continued in the chamber as the press gallery filled up. But few were listening to Richard Bruton talking about the very important matter of Deis schools.
Instead, eyes were fixed on the Government benches to spot the chosen ones as they arrived.
The Taoiseach sauntered in late – probably having had a lie-down following his flight from Washington – and elbowed Bruton out of his chair.
McGrath, already ensconced at the Cabinet table, sat on the Government side, leafing through documents like a proper Minister.
The three were joined by their big minister, Sir Winston Churchtown, and together they waited to see Enda’s new intake.
A number of mature Ministers of State (they emerged from the pod during the last government) retained their titles.
These high babies took their seats behind the happy low babies, allowing them their moment of advancement.
First in was Galway’s Seán Kyne, who was immediately met with a rush of colleagues to shake his hand. The senior Ministers rushed to their seats.
As Mary Mitchell O’Connor hurtled through the chamber doors she nearly got stuck in them. Earnest Bruton stood to reply to a question and was startled to see all the activity. “I didn’t expect this big audience!” he gurgled.
McGrath suddenly raced out of the chamber, phone to his ear. As he exited, he shouted: “John!” John Halligan, another of the Independent Alliance’s new juniors, arrived in soon afterwards.
Enda read out his list. None of his existing juniors was dropped. They were given different or rejigged portfolios. Like Dara Murphy, who becomes Minister of State for European Affairs, Data Protection, the UE Single Digital Market and Garda Motor Vehicle Transport for Important People with Fierce Big Jobs in Dublin and Brussels.
Michael Ring goes from Sport and Tourism to Minister of State for Regional Economic Development and Having Lumps taken out of Him in Parish Halls for not getting the Broadband Put in Yet.
Limerick’s Patrick O’Donovan* was in shock. He ended up with the coveted Sports and Tourism brief and will be able to tour the country doling out grants. He was in shock for the rest of the night.
Catherine Byrne of Dublin South Central was given her just reward for having to second Kenny’s nomination for Taoiseach so many times after the election. And Eoghan Murphy of Dublin 4 gets the blue chip job as Michael Noonan’s sidekick in the Department of Finance.
In what can hardly be seen as a nod in the direction of the “new politics”, Enda created three new jobs, bringing the total number of Ministers of State to 18.
There are now more Ministers than backbenchers in Fine Gael and all the Fine Gael women who were re-elected are now Ministers of one sort or another.
Mischievous waysAnd the political twitchers, sniffing the air, divined some trouble ahead for Enda Kenny and his team. Never mind the list of the freshly elevated – what about those who were passed over?
They could channel their considerable energies in mischievous ways, if they feel underappreciated.
When all the pods in Government Buildings yielded up their complement of Ministers of State, there was one particular job still to be filled in Leinster House.
One far removed from the welter of back- slapping and kissing that followed Kenny’s announcement.
As the night wore on, it seemed that Alan Kelly was finally willing to give up his fight for the top job.
It’s Brendan Howlin’s for the taking now, if he wants it.
* This article was amended on May 20th, 2016