Hard to discern any coherent rationale to Kenny’s choices

Opinion: Seeds may have been sown for a breakdown in relationship with TDs


Last Tuesday morning, before the reshuffle of Ministers of State was announced, former Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates – who knows a thing or two about family wars in that party during John Bruton’s leadership – told his Newstalk listeners to note the date. Seeds, he suggested, would be sown that day for what could prove to be a fatal breakdown in Enda Kenny’s relationship with many of his TDs.

Kenny, who is often assumed to be conservative in his approach to ministerial reshuffles, actually sacked four of the nine Fine Gael’s Ministers of State later that day. A fifth vacancy was available to him arising from Brian Hayes’s election to the European Parliament.

It is difficult, however, to discern any coherent or consistent rationale to the Taoiseach’s choices.

One would hope that considerations around the ability of the respective contenders played some part in his decisions. Assessing the competence of politicians is a subjective task but objectively the decision, for example, to demote Ciaran Cannon was curious. Many working in both education and the IT sector were impressed by Cannon’s performance as Minster of State for Training and Skills. He was a younger and relatively energetic Minister and one of the few capable of making a comprehensive speech or contribution without reading from notes.

While Kenny said yesterday that geography played a role in his reshuffle it is difficult to find any such justification in Cannon’s demotion since it leaves Galway without a Minister at either senior or junior level, while neighbouring Mayo, for example, has one of each.

Surprise demotion

It cannot be said that loyalty was the key determinant of Kenny’s reshuffle. The new Ministers of State include some who actively schemed against him during the 2010 heave.

Strong loyal voices are also included among those promoted.

This time last year Simon Harris first garnered a national profile on the frontline of the Fine Gael Seanad referendum campaign. Since then he has deepened his imprint in politics by effective performances at the Public Accounts Committee and his impressive run in the South constituency in last month’s European elections.

He has now been duly rewarded with the significant brief as Minister of State for Finance and Public Expenditure. From that berth this autumn he will effectively become the Minister for Morning Ireland and other news programmes in the lead into the budget.

Another diligent lieutenant of the Seanad referendum and favourite of the party press office, Dara Murphy, has also been rewarded, landing the portfolio of Minister of State for European Affairs.

In stark contrast to Harris and Murphy’s promotions, the other backbench musketeer of Fine Gael’s Seanad referendum campaign, Regina Doherty, has been left out in the cold.

She was very enthusiastic and initially effective at spouting the crafted lines about the cost of the Upper House which Fine Gael had let focus groups persuade it would help it win that referendum. She has also had to step up on the airways for the Government in recent difficult months when many senior Ministers proved as media shy as the Taoiseach.

She has been passed over in favour of county colleague Damien English.

The fact there is no woman Deputy at all among the Fine Gael Ministers of State suggests an absence of not only gender proofing but of basic political proofing.

One would have expected that when the Taoiseach worked out his first draft of the personalities and portfolios, he or some adviser would have realised that it was all male.

If they missed this obvious fact, and it political implications for a Government which has championed gender quotas for the next general elections, then that speaks of weaknesses at the court of Kenny.

If they did notice the all-male line-up but proceeded with it unadjusted then that must be even more unnerving for Fine Gael members hoping that the mid-term reshuffle of senior and junior Ministers would mark an overhaul of the party’s political management.

Peculiar appointment

The Donegal Deputy is an able politician who could comfortably have slotted into many of the other portfolios. He must now resent that his belated promotion has been blighted by the Taoiseach’s decision to assign him to a department for which he lacks a very necessary language skill.

McHugh’s sense of resentment will be pale by comparison to the demoted and the disposed.

Last Tuesday may indeed prove a watershed moment in Kenny’s relationship with his parliamentary party.

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