Surprises aplenty in Enda Kenny’s new Cabinet
Analysis: A much different ministerial line-up reflects a heavily changed Dáil
As befits a dramatically different 32nd Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has named a dramatically different Cabinet. That’s not even taking account of the strange phenomenon of three Independent deputies being handed senior roles.
Some of the biggest surprises have been his choices from within the Fine Gael ranks.
It was known that Leo Varadkar was keen to move away from health after less than two years (where he promised more than he delivered). But to see him replaced by Fine Gael’s rising star, the 29-year old Simon Harris, in this critical portfolio left many in the Dáil chamber agape. Varadkar has moved to the less turbulent terrain of Social Protection.
Is this a promotion, a demotion, or a lateral move for Varadkar, a prospective leader? It’s hard to tell.
What it does tell is that, despite his tender years, Harris is now in the frame as a possible successor to Kenny. He is organised, decisive, bright and articulate. It will be interesting to see if Health will halt his gallop, as it has done with so many pretenders before.
The other big surprise is Mary Mitchell O’Connor. She has a high profile and is being partly rewarded for ensuring Fine Gael returned two out of three seats in Dún Laoghaire. But her name was not mentioned as often as those of Regina Doherty or Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
Her elevation to Minister for Jobs and Enterprise is a massive promotion for Mitchell O’Connor, and shows how highly Kenny regards her.
The other big surprise is Michael Creed - a very able deputy who fell out badly with Kenny when he took the other side in the leadership battle. There was a sense among colleagues then that Creed, who represents Cork North West, might be left out in the cold permanently. His appointment to the big agriculture portfolio is a sign that the residual bitterness of Kenny’s 2010 crisis has been consigned to the past.
Another prodigal son who has returned from the cold is Denis Naughten, nominally an Independent these days, but in reality strongly Fine Gael in terms of DNA. His late father, Liam, and Kenny were very close friends, and Denis had very strong relationship with the Taoiseach.
Naughten fell out with Kenny in the leadership contest in 2010 and then, spectacularly, after the 2011 election. Kenny reneged on a promise given in relation to A&E services at Roscommon General Hospital.
Naughten voted against the government, lost the whip and left Fine Gael. His relationship with Kenny was very icy for a long time but it has thawed some over the past year.
Another person who might not have featured on Enda Kenny’s Christmas card list was Shane Ross. The Independent TD has opportunistically sniped at Kenny over the years. His description of Kenny as a “political corpse” in March did not endear him to Fine Gael and led to a furious row within the Independent Alliance. He too has Fine Gael roots and will now achieve the same as another semi-detached Fine Gaeler, James Dillon, who became minister for agriculture as an Independent in an inter-party government over six decades ago.
Another person who has almost come from nowhere is Katherine Zappone. She was a Labour Party nomination to the Seanad in 2011 and pulled off a considerable feat in winning a seat in Dublin South West in her first Dáil election. Now only two months after he election, she is a full Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Children and Youth Affairs.