Junior ministers: a missed opportunity

Just three of Leo Varadkar’s 19 junior ministers are women

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: completed review will be presented to the Oireachtas no later than September 2018. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: completed review will be presented to the Oireachtas no later than September 2018. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The list of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s junior ministerial appointments is disappointing on a number of fronts. Far from representing a new political broom, the selection reflects a continuation of politics as usual.

The Taoiseach has taken the soft option of increasing the number of junior ministers to 19, in a move copied from the Bertie Ahern political playbook, to reward five of his supporters. To make matters worse, there are now four so-called “super junior” ministers, although it is not clear if all will be paid an extra allowance for the privilege of attending Cabinet meetings.

The number of Ministers of State was initially set at 10 in 1978 but was raised to 15 in 1980 and then to 17 in 1995. It was then raised to 20 by Ahern after the 2007 general election, but Brian Cowen brought the number back down to 15 in 2009. It is now back up to 19 with no justification apart from the need to accommodate as many of Varadkar’s supporters as possible.

Given that the Brexit negotiations have just begun in earnest, it is certainly regrettable that an entirely new and untested Irish team has been put in place for what will be a vital period ahead

As for the “super juniors”, the chief whip has always attended Cabinet but an extra position was invented to accommodate Pat Rabbitte on the formation of the rainbow government in 1995 and the number was subsequently expanded to three.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: completed review will be presented to the Oireachtas no later than September 2018. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The new Taoiseach has taken the soft option of increasing the number of junior ministers to 19, in a move copied from the Bertie Ahern political playbook, to reward five of his supporters. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

There is no legal provision to pay an extra allowance to four “super juniors” and the Taoiseach told the Dáil yesterday that legislation to provide for such payments would be necessary but was not on his priority list.

Another worrying aspect of the announcement was the choice of the two serving junior ministers for the chop. One is those was outgoing Minister for European Affairs Dara Murphy who was generally recognised as having done a good job in the position.

The Taoiseach and his young Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, have limited experience of the EU and it is to be hoped that they don’t find themselves out of their depth

After the announcement, he said – with some justification – that it was a matter of great regret that the three members of the last government who had built up vital contacts across the European UnionEnda Kenny, Charles Flanagan and himself – had all been moved from their posts at the same time. Given that the Brexit negotiations have just begun in earnest, it is certainly regrettable that an entirely new and untested Irish team has been put in place for what will be a vital period ahead.

The Taoiseach and his young Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, have limited experience of the EU and it is to be hoped that they don’t find themselves out of their depth.

The other worrying feature of the changes is the dropping of Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, which reduces the number of women junior ministers from three to just two. There are too few women at a senior level in politics and the departure of Corcoran Kennedy means that just three of the 19 junior ministers, including “super juniors”, are women. That is simply not good enough.

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