A Cabinet reshuffle


EVENTS, as they say in politics, have conspired to force the resignation of Willie O’Dea from Cabinet, to sharpen fault lines within Government and to shine an unforgiving light on low standards within Fianna Fáil. The whole episode has shocked and angered people inside and outside that party. They are now looking to Brian Cowen to restore a semblance of propriety and authority to the Government.

How the Taoiseach can restore credibility and longevity to his Coalition is the key question following Mr O’Dea’s controversial, but necessary, resignation. There is a need for Mr Cowen to stand back from immediate events and take stock of the bigger political picture, even if he, and his Green colleagues, are too bruised to do so.

The current need is to provide hope for the hundreds of thousands of people seeking work. A consistent criticism of Government has been its failure to generate or to protect jobs. Its initial defence – that financial institutions had to be rescued as a prerequisite to the creation of commercial credit and jobs – lost potency as the long-term difficulties of banks became apparent. Because of that, a more aggressive job-creation strategy is required.

Mr O’Dea’s departure provides the Taoiseach with the opportunity for a fresh political start. The Government needs a thorough shake-up and filling a single vacancy at the Department of Defence will not serve that purpose. After 13 years in office, some ministers lack ideas and have become stale, detached and complacent. Others are simply out of their depth and should be replaced.

It will not be easy for Mr Cowen who is indecisive when it comes to such matters. His unpopularity with the electorate makes him vulnerable to internal and external criticism. However, unless a significant Cabinet reshuffle is undertaken he has no chance of regaining public confidence.

Colm McCarthy indicated a way forward in last year’s “Bord Snip” report. He recommended abolishing the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and a critical examination of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism. He also cast a cold eye on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which is responsible for 14 non-commercial State agencies and more than 4,000 staff. Splitting the latter department’s functions while reallocating and merging other Cabinet responsibilities could provide more effective government. At the very least, it would get rid of dead wood.

The Green Party came to office advocating the benefits of a smart, sustainable economy. Mr Cowen bought into that project. Next month, an innovation taskforce, comprising Irish entrepreneurs with international reputations, will submit its report to Government. That will provide ministers with an opportunity to display renewed solidarity and a commitment to job creation. But, first, Government structures must be made fit for purpose. Mr Cowen should consider a Cabinet reshuffle rather than the mere replacement of Mr O’Dea.