Big promotion for youngest TD to top junior post

Harris appointed as Minister of State for Finance in place of Brian Hayes

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny  and Tanaiste Joan Burton  with new Ministers of State on the steps of Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton with new Ministers of State on the steps of Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times


Simon Harris, the youngest TD in the Dáil, has been appointed to the top junior ministerial position in the second phase of the Government reshuffle.

Wicklow TD Mr Harris (27) was appointed as Minister of State for Finance in place of Brian Hayes, who was elected to the European Parliament.

The important post of Minister of State for European Affairs went to another first-time Fine Gael TD, Dara Murphy from Cork North Central.

The other Fine Gael TDs to get promotion to the junior Ministerial ranks were Waterford TD Paudie Coffey, who was appointed to the Department of the Environment and Donegal TD Joe McHugh, who takes over at the Gaeltacht.

Fergus O’Dowd, Ciarán Cannon and Dinny McGinley were dropped to make way.

On the Labour side, Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys has been promoted to the newly created junior post in the Department of Social Protection, Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan has responsibility for Rural Affairs and Dublin Bay North TD Aodhán O’Riordáin has been appointed as junior Minister at Justice.

There was criticism of the reshuffle from Irish language groups and Fianna Fáil on the basis that neither Minister at the Department of the Gaeltacht spoke fluent Irish.

Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív said he was shocked. “There is no question that Minister Joe McHugh is a person of talent, decency and integrity, but I am genuinely shocked and very disappointed that the Taoiseach has handed responsibility for protection and promotion of our language to someone who is unable to carry out his duties through the medium of Irish.”

He said Fine Gael and Labour’s disregard for Irish language policy had now been conclusively proven by the reshuffle with neither senior nor junior Minster able to conduct official business in Irish.

Sinn Féin spokesman Trevor Ó Clochartaigh congratulated Heather Humphreys and Joe McHugh on their appointments but stressed that their first priority must be to ensure no further cuts were made to the language and Gaeltacht elements of the department’s brief.

“The Irish language and Gaeltacht budgets have had a disproportionate amount of cuts under this FG and Labour Coalition,” Mr Ó Clochartaigh said. “That was on top of cuts imposed even during the boom years.”


Dara Murphy

Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs with Responsibility for European Affairs and Data Protection

Murphy is a first-time TD for Cork North Central. There was some surprise that he landed a post that is probably as important as some of the Cabinet positions but it reflects the impact he has made in a little over three years in the Dáil.

The 44-year-old has been an able defender of Government policy. His promotion is clearly a reward for his loyalty but is also designed to shore up the Fine Gael vote on the north side of Cork city. A father of three, he owned a catering business before entering politics.

Joe McHugh

Minister of State at the Departments of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources with Responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources The Fine Gael TD for Donegal North East and former teacher has taken over the Gaeltacht Affairs brief from fellow Donegal man Dinny McGinley. It is a case of generational change with the 69-year-old McGinley making way for the 43-year-old McHugh.

McHugh has been chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. His is married to former Fine Gael frontbencher Olwyn Enright and they have two children.

Paudie Coffey

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment with Responsibility for Housing, Planning and Co-ordination of the Construction 2020 Strategy The Waterford man is another first-time TD, although he served a term in the Seanad before making it to the Dáil at the last general election. His senior Minister at the Department of the Environment Alan Kelly is another first-time TD.

Housing is a key issue for the Government, but there is also a political side to the appointment of the 45-year-old former ESB employee. He is a loyal supporter of the party leadership, in contrast to his Fine Gael constituency colleague, John Deasy.

Damien English

Minister of State at the Departments of Education and Skills, and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with Responsibility for Skills, Research and Innovation

The youthful Meath West TD (36) has waited a long time for preferment. First elected to the Dáil in 2002, English would likely have been made a junior minister in 2011, had he not backed Richard Bruton in the Fine Gael leadership heave of 2010. It was another Meath TD, the late Shane McEntee, who was given the position of minister of state at the Department of Agriculture. English was made chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education.

Ann Phelan

Minister of State at the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and Transport, Tourism and Sport with Responsibility for Rural Economic Development and Rural Transport A first-time TD, Phelan has had the air for weeks now of someone who knew she was getting a job under a Joan Burton Labour leadership. Phelan (53) was one of those who spoke out, to some extent, about Eamon Gilmore’s leadership in its final months.

She regained the traditional Labour seat in Carlow-Kilkenny in 2011.

Joan Burton herself has strong connections to the Labour organisation in Phelan’s constituency.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Minister of State at the Departments of Justice and Equality, and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with Responsibility for Equality, New Communities and Culture The 38-year-old former primary school principal is a first-time TD on Dublin’s northside.

The Labour man will add to the liberal political tinge at the Department of Justice where Frances Fitzgerald is the senior Minister. It will be interesting to see how he gets on in a department noted for its cautious conservatism.

He faces an uphill battle to retain his seat and his promotion owes something to electoral considerations.

Simon Harris

Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and the Taoiseach with Responsibility for the OPW, Public Procurement and International Banking This is a major promotion for the 27-year-old Wicklow TD, the youngest member of the Dáil, and a clear sign Fine Gael expects him to join the party’s front rank. He was an able member of the Public Accounts Committee, and his energetic campaign in the European election added greatly to his standing in the party. Harris’s duties will go beyond work in his own portfolio. Like his predecessor Brian Hayes, Fine Gael expects him to be a marksman in the broadcast media.

Kevin Humphreys

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection with Special Responsibility for Activation Humphreys is a close ally of his party leader Joan Burton. His prime task will be to mind the department when she is away and tackle political problems there while she performs her duties as Tánaiste and Labour leader. His special responsibility, labour activation, includes make-work-pay measures and policies to encourage unemployed people to search for work and improve their employability.

Humphreys (56) is a first-time TD in Dublin South-East and was leader of the Labour group in Dublin City Council for nine years.