Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny today predicted a general election within 12 months and a resounding win for the party led by a front bench including five rebel TDs.
Former leader Michael Noonan is back in frontline politics as he steps into finance, with the man who sparked last month’s leadership heave, Richard Bruton, demoted to enterprise.
Dr James Reilly, one of Mr Kenny’s most ardent supporters, was rewarded with the Deputy Leader position and retains his health brief.
Unveiling an enlarged shadow cabinet team from 19 to 21 members and an emphasis on experience over youth, Mr Kenny vowed the party was strong, united and focused on the future.
“We intend to win and win big,” Mr Kenny said.
The new team was announced a fortnight after Mr Kenny dramatically survived the leadership heave sparked by Mr Bruton and supported by Simon Coveney, Denis Naughten, Olwyn Enright, Olivia Mitchell, Fergus O’Dowd, Michael Creed, Billy Timmins, Leo Varadkar, Brian Hayes, and Charlie Flangan, who initially backed the leader.
While it was widely expected Mr Bruton would be retained, Mr Kenny raised eyebrows by keeping four other rebels on his front bench team, although largely demoted or shifted sideways – Mr Coveney (Transport), Mr Varadkar (Communications and Natural Resources), Mr O’Dowd (Education and Skills), and Mr Flanagan (Children).
Mr Naughten, Ms Mitchell, Mr Creed and Mr Hayes have all been dumped to the backbenches. Ms Enright and Mr Timmins ruled themselves out for Shadow Cabinet positions.
Mr Kenny said he had not spoken to the four TDs he dropped about the changes.
Two out of the five female TDs in the party were appointed to the front bench with new portfolios – Catherine Byrne (Older Citizens) and Deirdre Clune (Innovation and Research).
Senator Frances Fitzgerald remains as Seanad leader.
Mr Kenny opted for age and experience over youth, choosing Mr Noonan for the prime Finance position and appointing the former Government minister Sean Barrett to the Foreign Affairs post, both aged in their 60s.
Mr Noonan said he would be building on Mr Bruton’s work.
“I think what the people need now more than anything else is hope. They’re losing their jobs... their children are emigrating, their houses are worth less than the mortgage on them and there’s this feeling around of we mightn’t get out of this,” he said.
“I think I’m clear headed enough to outline a strategy which will put confidence back into the economy and lift the morale of the people and give hope.”
Mr Bruton pledged confidence in the party leader and said he was excited about his new role.
“I’m fully confident, the parliamentary party made its decision on that, that decision has passed,” he said.
“I want to make a contribution and I believe it is the right thing to do having reflected in the intervening period.”
Mr Bruton has also been given responsibility for public service reform, which Mr Kenny said would be a full ministry in a Fine Gael Government.
Mr Kenny said he couldn’t appoint everyone and that those he dropped would have an opportunity to make their case for Government at the next General Election.
Asked if he believed they would be waiting for him in the long grass, he added: “I hope that they will be waiting in the wings of Government. They will all have the opportunity to make their case for Government as we strike out for the General Election.
“In the Fine Gael party for the future there is no long grass, it was all cut a couple of weeks ago.”