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Jack Chambers: young Dublin West TD catapulted into the deep end of Irish politics

Recently appointed deputy leader of Fianna Fáil takes over at the most heavyweight of Government departments

Tanaiste Micheál Martin announcing Jack Chambers as Fianna Fáil's deputy leader on the plinth at Leinster House, Dublin last week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The appointment of Jack Chambers as Minister for Finance – following his promotion last week as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil – catapults the young Dublin West TD into the role of front runner to replace Micheál Martin as leader of the party whenever he steps down.

And while leadership elections are invariably decided by factors such as the prevailing political climate of the time and the preparation undertaken by the candidates, and though the preferences of the outgoing leader are unlikely to sway the contest, there is no doubt that the announcements of recent days have brought Chambers into the very front rank of national politics.

There is likely to be some surprise in the ranks of Fianna Fáil. The Department of Finance is a big step up for any politician; for one who has not yet commanded a department of state, it is especially so.

Chambers was highly regarded by Martin when he served as chief whip during the period 2020-2022, when Martin was in the Taoiseach’s office. Martin considered appointing him as Minister for Health at the end of that period but made him a super-junior minister at the Department of Transport – sitting at Cabinet but without the authority of a full department – where he has frequently wrestled behind the scenes with Eamon Ryan.


But it was his role as director of elections for the recent local elections campaign that really confirmed Martin’s admiration for his organisational and political skills.

Fianna Fáil minimised expected losses and emerged – by a whisker – as the largest party in local government, just pipping Fine Gael (and Fianna Fáilers love that) and beating Sinn Féin into a distant third place. Announcing his appointment last week, Martin paid him extravagant tributes, indicating a central role for Chambers in planning the next general election campaign. That’s a process which, you can be sure, is already under way.

Chambers will now combine that political role in planning the next general election with the heaviest of the heavyweight jobs in Government. Along with the Department of Public Expenditure – housed in the same building, and until the economic crash part of the finance department – the power of the Department of Finance ranges all the way across Government and into every aspect of the Government’s activities.

Ministers for Finance tend to be powerful, impactful figures in the governments they serve; the roll call of alumni – whose portraits hang in the department – includes giants of Irish politics including Charles Haughey, John Bruton, Ray MacSharry, Albert Reynolds, Ruairi Quinn, Bertie Ahern, Charlie McCreevy and Michael Noonan. Many went on to become Taoiseach.

Not for nothing used McCreevy remind Ahern that the position was the only minister’s job mentioned in the Constitution. In some administrations, the Minister for Finance has been almost on a par with the Taoiseach.

This is the office to which the 33-year-old Chambers, a TD since just 2016, now ascends. He does so at a time when the political stakes have rarely been higher. In early July he and Paschal Donohoe must agree and publish the summer economic statement, a key budgetary document which will set the fiscal parameters for the autumn budget.

Budget 2025 – whether in October as currently scheduled or a few weeks beforehand – will be the last significant political act of the Coalition and inevitably the precursor to the general election itself.

Chambers will have to balance the pressures from his fellow ministers for a pre-election spending splurge with the Government’s commitments to maintain spending discipline. It will be essential to establish from the outset a productive and trusting relationship with Paschal Donohoe in the Department of Public Expenditure.

Donohoe and the outgoing minister Michael McGrath had a close relationship that was vital to the functioning of government; on budgetary issues, they formed a sort of axis of prudence, resisting the demands for spending increases and tax cuts even at a time when corporation tax revenues continued to flow into the Exchequer. If that does not continue, the character of the Coalition will change.

As with every political appointment, there will be some resentment in Fianna Fáil, though Martin is well used to that. In some quarters, Chambers is seen as Martin’s teacher’s pet. He does not have the sort of political or governing experience that most new Ministers for Finance bring to the role. Yes, he is bright and clearly has his boss’s confidence. But he is in at the deep end now.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times