The new Coalition has faced a barrage of criticism over the lack of regional balance in its senior Cabinet with no senior Minister from West, the North West or the South East.
Ministers were yesterday forced to defend and explain a Cabinet with 12 members from Dublin, the East Coast and Cork. There is no senior Minister from Connacht.
Fianna Fáil TDs, in particular, expressed surprise at the omission of the party’s deputy leader, Mayo TD Dara Calleary, from the senior Cabinet. He has been appointed the Government chief whip, a ‘super junior’ role but was not one of the five senior Ministers appointed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
The Independent Deputy for Galway-Roscommon Michael Fitzmaurice held up a map of Ireland during the sitting of the Dáil on Saturday with counties on the western seaboard coloured red. Challenging the Taoiseach, he said:
“I am baffled when you look at this map in the (red) area, you see there is not one senior minister from the top of Donegal to the bottom of Limerick,” he siad.
“I am baffled that the West of Ireland will not have a senior minister. I am throwing down the gauntlet to you. It is your job to have equality in all parts of the country.
“There are 1.2 million people there, the same as in the city of Dublin where you have six senior ministers,” he added.
All three senior Green Ministers are based in Dublin constituencies. Its leader, Eamon Ryan, said it was difficult to get geographical spread when there were three different parties.
“I think each leader was cognisant of getting gender balance and regional balance,” he said.
He and several other Ministers made the argument that the three “super junior” Ministers were equal members of the Cabinet. They are: Mr Calleary; Hildegarde Naughton (Galway West) and Senator Pippa Hackett, who is based in Offaly.
“Every one in Cabinet has a real role. You do not look at the 15 (senior ministers). It is one cabinet and one group around the table who make collective decisions. Not having a vote is not the significant thing because Cabinets do not vote, they agree by consensus.”
‘Good geographical spread’
Minister for Social Protection and Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys argued there was a “good geographical spread”. “There has been a lot of talk about no senior minister on the western seaboard but the fact is that two senior people from the west will sit at the Cabinet table,” she said.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly argued that every Minister was a national minister and praised Mr Calleary’s competence, saying he and Ms Naughton would represent Mayo and Galway.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the geographical spread was problematic. She said that “neither geography nor gender trump competence but it’s not as if all the talent exists in Dublin, Cork and the East coast,” she said.
There was a substantial reaction on social media in relation to the regional distribution of senior ministers, with divided views between those who contended the West had been forgotten, and those who argue that the home base of a politician should play no part in considering their merits for higher office.