Cabinet reshuffle: Sealing the deal — class of 2014

Political Correspondent Shaun Connolly on the winners losers, movers, and shakers

Winners

- Heather Humphreys: The first word uttered by many when news broke of Ms Humphreys being appointed to the Arts post was: “Who?” The first-time Fine Gael TD has had a low national profile. even by the standards of most backbenchers.

But the former credit union boss is used to breaking convention, as she was the first woman to be elected for Fine Gael in Cavan-Monaghan — and only the second woman to become a TD there.

Now she has leap-fogged colleagues to carve out a place in Cabinet, but the move appears to have generated goodwill for the popular deputy from her colleagues, rather than jealousy.

The previous incumbent Jimmy Deenihan brought energy to the role, but not much vision, and Ms Humphreys will now be expected to beef up a portfolio which lacks both funding and definition.

With the country entering its centenary of the revolutionary decade, the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht role will become increasingly visible.

The fact that Ms Humphreys happens to be a Protestant will also chime with the spirit of reconciliation and remembrance.

Unable to hide her surprise at the elevation, Ms Humphreys received the biggest round of applause for any minister when she walked into the Dáil chamber.

Clearly, she has entertainment in her blood as she started playing the piano at six and her first job was in a Butlins holiday camp.

- Alan Kelly: The Junior Transport portfolio suited a man in a big hurry. But Alan Kelly will find his new job a far more hostile environment.

A whirlwind rise saw Mr Kelly in the European Parliament representing Munster in 2009 and the Dáil two years later, as TD for Tipperary North.

Eamon Gilmore immediately elevated him to a junior ministry, much to the dismay of some of his colleagues, who felt he had been given an easy ride.

Mr Kelly would still not win any popularity contest in the parliamentary party, but he swept to a commanding victory where it mattered in the four-horse race for the deputy leadership.

Dubbed the Minister for Bikes for his push to extend the city-bike scheme outside Dublin, Kelly is said not to have had the best of relations with his Fine Gael boss, Leo Varadkar.

Now Tánaiste Joan Burton has given the TD, who turns 39 on Sunday, an early birthday with the Environment department.

Housing is supposed to be the key priority, but with just 18 months before the next election, there is hardly time to leave a solid legacy — except as minister for water charges and the property tax.

One Labour TD observed of him: “Alan doesn’t seem to realise there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance.”

- Jan O’Sullivan: After 16 years in the Dáil, the new Education Minister, 63, can hardly be called a fresh face, but as well as the evident abilities she has shown at the housing brief, gender and geography will also have worked in the favour of the Limerick TD.

With Ruairí Quinn promising far more than he delivered in the education role, the new Minister must deal with a number of pressing problems. Seen as a safe pair of hands, Ms O’Sullivan must handle the pressing issue of closures of small rural schools, which is exercising backbench Fine Gael TDs, and ongoing rebellion by teachers over changes to exam structures.

The former preschool teacher is believed to be the first education minister from the Church of Ireland.

- Alex White: A loser in the Labour leadership contest, Mr White can count himself lucky that Joan Burton was magnanimous in victory.

As with Jan O’Sullivan, geography will have paid a big part, as Labour is keen to keep a Dublin deputy prominent alongside Ms Burton. Having only scrapped together 22% of the vote in the Labour contest, there was no obligation on Ms Burton to elevate him, especially as his dismal showing was in part due to the disastrous way he handled the medical card cull as junior health minister.

Some party colleagues consider the barrister too slick for his own good, and will be closely watching the former RTÉ journalist’s handling of the broadcasting element of his sprawling brief, especially the way in which he deals with the commercial sector.

Losers

- Kathleen Lynch: Widely tipped for the Cabinet slot given to Jan O’Sullivan, Ms Lynch’s failure to reach the top table surprised many in Labour.

The former Democratic Left TD is expected to remain in her post as Minister of State with responsibility for mental health when junior posts are announced next week.

A skilled media performer, the Cork TD, 61, has suffered bouts of poor health in recent years after an insect bite in Paris left her with a rare blood condition.

Ms Lynch has played down reports that she threatened to resign last Christmas over proposed cuts to the mental health budget.

- Simon Coveney: Keen sailor Simon Coveney navigated the choppy waters of the horse-meat scandal with aplomb and must have been hoping for elevation in the reshuffle as reward.

The Cork TD will have noted the move of his chief rival for the leadership, Leo Varadkar, to Health. But while the rise is a definite promotion, it is to the most troubled and unloved of government departments, where the potential for disaster is ever present.

The bizarre bolting-on of the Defence portfolio to Agriculture will do little to soften the blow of failing to climb further up the Cabinet level.

The newly installed ‘Minister for Tanks and Tractors’ would have been expecting a better hand from dealer, Mr Kenny as he shuffled the Cabinet deck.

- Pat Rabbitte: The former Labour leader put his demise down to “age and chemistry” and did not bother to try and hide his anger at being dumped from the top table.

Despite having a history of poor personal relations with Joan Burton, Mr Rabbitte mounted a very public campaign to remain in the Communications, Energy and Natural Resources role.

The age issue particularly grates with Mr Rabbitte, as at 64, he is actually a year younger than Ms Burton. Unhappy at the way he has been treated, Mr Rabbitte may not stand for Labour again as a result.

“It is too soon [to decide]. I had every intention of standing for re-election but I suppose if you’re deemed too old to serve in the Cabinet at this juncture, that puts somewhat of a different light, or causes you to look through a different prism.

“Any leader of a political party is entitled to exercise his or her judgment as best they can, according to their own lights. And as a former leader of the Labour Party I entirely accept that,” he told RTÉ.

- Jimmy Deenihan: As Phil Hogan won the battle for the plum job of European Commissioner, Mr Deenihan is the only minister to be dumped from the Cabinet.

The role as a Junior Minister in the Foreign Affairs department, with special responsibility for the Irish abroad is hardly likely to sweeten the blow for the former All-Ireland medal winner.

Widely tipped for the chop, even a last-minute campaign by some colleagues to keep the Kerry North-Limerick West TD in the top team could not save him.

Had a low-profile as minister for the arts, heritage and Gaeltacht — he’ll have an even lower one now.

Movers

- Leo Varadkar: Not known for his bedside manner, qualified doctor Mr Varadkar is likely to take a tough love, kill or cure, attitude to the sickest patient in Government.

The most chaotic department in Cabinet now has a bluff, no-nonsense boss, who will certainly not indulge in the public tears that became a trademark of his crisis-battered predecessor, James Reilly.

Seen as making a success at Transport and Tourism, Mr Varadkar in fact had little to work with there after the road budget was slashed in the financial crash. But nonetheless, he presented what he did do well. He would prefer to have been moved to Environment, a post he had been expecting, rather than Health.

Political ambition prevented Mr Varadkar, 35, working as a GP, but he will now have to try and control the entire health service after it was traumatised by three turbulent years in the hands of a minister who appeared to lurch from one disaster to another.

The most pressing over-hang from his predecessor is the massive €500m overspend in the budget.

Resources are to be poured in to plug the gap this year, but Mr Varadkar will need to show he can handle a spending department and get the over-runs under control for the next two years.

Restoring public confidence after the PR disaster of the medical card cull will also take skill.

- Paschal Donohoe: Viewed as a good communicator by colleagues, the Dublin TD’s rise has been swift since entering the Dáil three years ago.

Lucinda Creighton’s rebellion against X-Case legislation saw the former sales manager, 39, slip into her shoes as Europe Minister, and now he takes on the Transport and Tourism brief vacated by Leo Varadkar.

A well-cultivated, gentle exterior hides a sharply ambitious streak.

- Charlie Flanagan: Being on the wrong side of the 2010 heave saw the 57-year-old Laois-Offaly TD cast into the wilderness by an unforgiving Enda Kenny.

While challenger-in-chief Richard Bruton along with supporters like Leo Varadkar, were welcomed into the new Cabinet — former justice spokesperson Mr Flanagan was left to flounder on the back benches until the forced resignation of Alan Shatter weakened Mr Kenny so much he finally had to build bridges.

Mr Flanagan was brought in as Children’s Minister, as Frances Fitzgerald moved to Justice, and his sudden elevation to Foreign Affairs has raised eyebrows.

Mr Flanagan has always kept a close interest in the North, but with the peace process relatively calm, the Foreign Affairs portfolio has lost much of the bite it used to have.

Nevertheless, it is still viewed as one of the prestigious ‘great offices’ of State.

- James Reilly: With backbenchers screaming for his head after the chaos of the medical card review, the Taoiseach had no choice but to move his close political ally.

As deputy leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny had to keep him in Cabinet, but the move to the Children’s Department surprised many.

Despite Mr Kenny talking up the importance the Government attaches to children’s issues, the portfolio now has its third minister in three months.

Will take responsibility for anti-smoking and anti-obesity campaigns with him to his new post.

Tax break vows for next budget

By Juno McEnroe, Political Reporter

Enda Kenny and Joan Burton have promised to give low- and middle- income earners tax breaks in upcoming budgets after unveiling their new Cabinet.

Increased subsidies for childcare and after-school places will also be made available to parents entering employment, a new Fine Gael and Labour policy document stated.

The document includes commitments over the next two years in employment, housing, health care, managing the public finances, and reforming politics.

Enda Kenny signalled that hard-working families on higher taxes could be set for a boon as he announced his new Cabinet and priorities for the remainder of the Government’s term. He said Ireland had “been through the wars”, but claimed that a recovery was under way and things would get better.

Tánaiste Joan Burton, the new Labour leader, pledged to make decent wages and affordable housing a priority.

Yesterday’s reshuffle means 10 of the full 15 Cabinet posts since the Coalition took power have now been changed or swapped. The number of female senior ministers has also doubled from two to four.

While the new Cabinet received cheers as they entered the Dáil chamber, party leaders conceded more work needed to be done.

The introduction of the universal social charge by the last government had pushed the top rate of tax to 52%, Mr Kenny said, adding: “This is neither right nor tolerable for you nor sustainable for the country. The Government wants to make work pay for Ireland’s families. Now, especially, we want to make their lives that bit better easier.”

Priorities for the next two years include exports, 25,000 extra jobs in the agri-food sector, a tripling of housing by 2020, and 50,000 new jobs in tourism over the next decade.

Ms Burton, reiterating previous comments, said a social recovery needed to accompany an economic one. Job creation, but with decent wages, would be a priority, she said.

To this end, the Tánaiste said a new, low-pay commission on a statutory basis would make annual recommendations to the Government about “the appropriate level of the minimum wage and related matters”.

She made particular reference to the new super junior minister role in Jobs, which will go to Labour and oversee collective bargaining, support for SMEs, and low-pay changes. Louth TD Gerard Nash has been awarded this post.

The Coalition would reform “income tax for low- and middle-income workers, to reduce the amount they pay and allow them to share in the recovery”, she said.

A major social and affordable housing programme was also promised, which will be headed up by deputy Labour leader, Alan Kelly, in Environment.

The Government also pledged to publish details of all appointments to state boards.

Jan’s natural home in politics

By Jimmy Woulfe, Mid-West Correspondent

Labour stalwart in Limerick, Joe Kemmy, who guided Jan O’Sullivan’s career since she won the 1998 by-election caused by the death of his brother, Jim, said she has now found her natural home in politics as Minister for Education.

Mr Kemmy said: “Jan is a teacher by profession and taught in Villiers before entering the Senate and the Dáil. She was a brilliant spokesperson on education for Labour and now she has the opportunity to shine as Minister for Education. It has been a long time coming, and it is great for Jan, for her family, for Limerick and education in this country.”

Mr Kemmy said as Minister for Education, Ms O’Sullivan will be able to enhance education in Limerick.

He said: “With the purchase by the state of the old Mungret College it is the obvious site for a badly needed new school to avoid having children being bussed all over the county. Limerick now has two senior ministers at the cabinet table with Jan and Michael Noonan.”

Mr Kemmy, who was Ms O’Sullivan’s director of elections in the 1998 by-election, said many did not give her much of a chance of retaining his brother’s seat for Labour.

Mr Kemmy said: “It was an unusual election in that there were three women candidates running for the main parties, with Sandra Marsh for Fianna Fáil and Mary Jackman for Fine Gael. Of the three, Jan was the outsider, but she headed the poll and I was so confident she would take the seat, that I had a good bet at 7/1 on her.”

Mr Kemmy said her appointment to government was a great boost for Labour in Limerick.

He noted that Ms O’Sullivan resides with her GP husband, Dr Paul O’Sullivan, at the Irish Estates in Corbally.

He said: “This estate has been home to prominent politicians, as my late brother, Jim lived there and Dessie O’Malley also brought up his family there.”

Mr Kemmy, who now describes himself as “an ordinary member” of the Labour party, helped Cllr Joe Leddin, Ms O’Sullivan’s parliamentary assistant, retain his council seat at the recent elections

Ms O’Sullivan, 63, has two adult children, Patrick and Emily and one grandchild. Her late father, Ted Gale, was a well-known Limerick journalist who worked with the Limerick Leader and at the Limerick Weekly Echo.

She was Labour’s education spokesperson in opposition to ministers Noel Dempsey and Mary Hanafin from 2002 to 2007, when Ruairi Quinn took over the shadow role before himself becoming Education Minister in 2011.

Ministers already facing up to advice and pressure

There were mostly welcomes, and plenty policy advice from interest groups and others for the new members of Cabinet, and those assuming new roles in Government:

On Jan O’Sullivan, new Education Minister

- “It is crucial that the new minister recognises the need for full and meaningful consultation with the relevant unions in the development of any new education policies or on any matters affecting the terms and conditions of teachers and lecturers” — Annette Dolan, deputy general secretary, Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI)

- “We hope to meet with the new minister in the next few weeks and are hopeful that she will engage with and work with students as equal partners in education” — Craig McHugh, president, Irish Second-Level Students Union.

- “The ASTI is available to meet and work with minister O’Sullivan to resolve the current dispute over proposed changes to junior cycle assessment. The proposals as they stand do not have the confidence of teachers and it is now clear that parents also have serious concerns. Education is a key ministry and the ASTI will support the new Minister in seeking to reverse five years of damaging cuts in school staffing and resources.”- Pat King, general secretary, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland

On Leo Varadkar, new Health Minister

- “I don’t think this is a change for the health system, because there will be no change unless there is a real examination of budgets and reform in the system. From what I know of him, Leo Varadkar is a straight talker, a straight dealer.

- “His most important job, and challenge, will be to get political support for what reforms are needed in health. The system is too closely run by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at present, which looks at health as a budget not a service” — Liam Doran, general secretary, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Irish Medical Organisation.

- Irish Medical Organisation president Trevor Duffy wished Mr Varadkar success and committed the IMO to “working in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation” to deliver “realistic” reforms.

- “We need to take the ideology out of the Irish health services. We don’t need reforms which are designed by the IMF in Washington. We need reforms which reflect the reality of an overstretched health service where services to patients are being cut year on year and workload for doctors is increasing to unmanageable levels.”

On Heather Humphreys, new Arts, Culture, and Gaeltacht Minister

- “We look forward to contributing to the new minister’s development of a truly holistic national cultural policy, which needs to be widely consulted to ensure buy-in and to be truly worthy of its name” — National Campaign for the Arts.

On Alan Kelly, new Environment Minister

The people that we work with overseas are predominantly small-scale farmers who are at the front line of the impacts of climate change. Climate change represents injustice on a global scale – as the most vulnerable who have done the least to cause the problem are most severely affected by it.

- “We are pleased that the Government is committed to finalising climate legislation this year. We encourage Minister Kelly to be proactive and to bring the draft Climate Bill into the Dáil for debate as soon as possible within the new Dáil term” — Éamonn Meehan, executive director, Trócaire.

On Charlie Flanagan, new Foreign Affairs Minister

- “It is imperative that we continue to build on our strong relationship with the Irish Government and bring them, along with the British government, to the negotiating table as we try to reach a resolution on dealing with the past, parading, and flags” — Alasdair McDonnell MP, SDLP leader.

On James Reilly, new Children’s Minister

- “When this Government came in, they introduced huge changes to improve child welfare and protection services. If that legacy is to continue, it is essential that Minister Reilly make it his priority to ensure that the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is properly funded. Failure to do so will undermine the significant progress to date“In addition we would hope to see prioritisation of the publication of the Children First Bill and a real drive to ensure the Early Years Strategy is published as soon as possible.” — Fergus Finlay, chief executive, Barnardos.

- “Government action is needed to ensure children get the best possible start in life. We welcome the appointment of Minister James Reilly... and urge him to follow through on the government commitment to a national early years strategy” — Ciairín de Buis, director of the early care and education group Start Strong.

On Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister, and now also Defence Minister

- Irish Farmers’ Association president Eddie Downey said he and the group look forward to working closely with Mr Coveney and wished him continued success in the position, saying there is a long agenda of serious issues impacting on the incomes and well-being of farm families that needs to be urgently addressed. He said the role in agriculture is a very demanding job and farmers will expect Mr Coveney to ensure his additional defence portfolio does not leave any issue of concern to farm families neglected.

- “ICSA wants to see him refocusing on the ongoing beef crisis. The minister must also now deal with the fact that more than 10,000 farmers have appealed what they perceive as unjust LPIS penalties.

- “ICSA is also concerned about the addition of the defence portfolio to the minister’s brief. We hope this won’t distract minister Coveney from the key issues in agriculture, and particularly the current crisis in the beef sector” — Pat Kent, president, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association.

On Pascal Donohoe, new Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister

- “The role in tourism is a very demanding job and restaurateurs will expect Minister Donohoe to battle at the cabinet table for the retention of the 9% vat rate and extra 2000 training spaces for chefs in Ireland” — Adrian Cummins, chief executive, Restaurants Association of Ireland.

Niall Murray and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith


Lifestyle

Another episode, another incredible Cork woman. The tale of Mother Jones, the famous union organiser and activist against child labour in 19th century America.Five things for the week ahead: RTÉ showcase another incredible Cork woman

Holger Smyth part-owns and runs Inanna Rare Books, which has recently opened a ‘rare book lounge’ at the former Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork.We sell books: Cream of the book crop sold from former co-op

Milton Jones talks hecklers, Hawaiian shirts and the world’s favourite clever Irishman with Richard FitzpatrickMilton Jones: When one line will do just fine

After almost 70 years of trying the search goes on, but so far nothing has been found.Sky Matters: Whether we are alone in the Universe has exercised many great minds

More From The Irish Examiner