Varadkar’s Cabinet: evolution over revolution

Promotion of so few new faces will disappoint those who expected sweeping changes

 

The shape of the new cabinet unveiled by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his first Dáil speech have signalled that he intends to govern from the centre rather than embarking in any radical new direction. After all the speculation, the cabinet reshuffle turned out to be a tame affair with just one senior minister being dropped. Following the departure of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan it meant there was an opening for three new appointments.

Key cabinet positions have gone to experienced ministers. Paschal Donohoe takes over responsibility for Finance as well as Public Expenditure and Reform. This is a sensible move to bring revenue-raising and expenditure under the control of one powerful minister.

Simon Coveney’s move from Housing to Foreign Affairs is a significant change. His experience as Minister for Agriculture and as an MEP will be helpful in dealing with Brexit and his department has been given special responsibility to deal with the issue. He will also have to get the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive back in operation. He has huge challenges on his plate.

Charlie Flanagan faces a major task in Justice with reform of the Garda a serious imperative. He has proved a safe pair of hands in Foreign Affairs and, as a former justice spokesman, should be able to deal with the challenge of running a difficult department.

Although it smacks of punishment, Varadkar has wisely left Simon Harris in the demanding position of Minister for Health while Eoghan Murphy has been given a testing responsibility at Housing which must be at the top of the Government’s priorities.

The promotion of so few new faces to Cabinet will disappoint those who had expected sweeping changes. But Varadkar’s own election as taoiseach, after just 10 years’ experience in the Dáil, and the presence of other young ministers like Donohoe, Harris and Murphy in senior positions means there is a good mixture of youth and experience.

In his first speech to the House, Varadkar stressed the importance of stability, saying his Government would not be one of either left or right – which he dismissed as outdated concepts from the 1980s – but one of the new European centre. Emphasising words like opportunity, hope and progress, he spoke of the power of politics to inspire people and was clearly trying to put to rest the claims from political opponents that he is a politician with a right-wing agenda.

Commendably he began and ended his speech in Irish, saying things of substance in the first official language and expressing the hope his efforts would inspire more people to speak it. The overall impression he attempted to create was that of a reenergised Government while reassuring people the State remains in safe hands. Time will tell.

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