Leo Varadkar was seen as the major loser in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s new Cabinet, given his demotion to the Department of Social Protection.
After 70 days and on the fourth attempt, Mr Kenny was yesterday re-elected Taoiseach in the Dáil, by a margin of 59 votes to 49, thus becoming the first Fine Gael leader to do so in history.
The formation of the new Government yesterday was marked by chaos as the deal with the Independent Alliance and the rural TDs was on the verge of collapse, minutes before the Dáil vote was scheduled.
To govern is a great responsibility & a great honour. I am humbled by the opportunity. We will give all we have to creating a fairer Ireland— Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD) May 6, 2016
Mr Kenny has risked opening a rift with Mr Varadkar,one of the main contenders to succeed him as Fine Gael leader. But the demotion comes following Mr Varadkar being the source of repeated conflict in the recent talks with Independents and Fianna Fáil.
It has emerged that he had been sidelined in government negotiation talks since last Thursday and has been seen to struggle in health.
One Independent TD told the Irish Examiner this was because “he was arrogant and couldn’t negotiate” with them.
Last night, Mr Varadkar and his supporters denied he was “shafted” and attempted to put a positive spin on the move. A source close to the Dublin West TD said he is “surprised and sorry to be leaving health, but it probably needed a fresh pair of eyes”.
The source said it will be good for Mr Varadkar to be “out of the firing line every single day”.
However, one senior Fine Gael minister last night expressed doubts over the length of time the minority government could last.
“If we find that this government is not working we will not be holding it up,” said the minister. “If this government is unworkable Fine Gael will be going back to the people.”
It has been confirmed that members of the Independent Alliance defied Fine Gael demands to enter the Dáil chamber at 12pm as scheduled, forcing the vote to be delayed by two hours.
A Fine Gael negotiator said it had been touch and go as to whether the Independent Alliance would support Mr Kenny’s nomination
Finance Minister Michael Noonan will now work with Michael Fitzmaurice to hammer out an agreement on turf-cutting and bogs.
Both sides are confident that Mr Fitzmaurice will be able to join his Independent Alliance members in minority government when a solution is agreed on this in the coming weeks.
The big winners in terms of Cabinet are Simon Harris, who takes over from Mr Varadkar in health at the age of just 29, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who is the new jobs minister, and Michael Creed, who is the new minister for agriculture. Cork South Central TD Simon Coveney declared his delight at becoming the new minister for housing.
Frances Fitzgerald has been named Tánaiste, while Paschal Donohoe has been promoted to succeed Brendan Howlin as minister for public expenditure and reform.
There was some controversy after Independent Alliance TD Shane Ross confirmed his appointment as transport minister before the Dáil was informed, to the fury of Mr Kenny.
Mr Ross told the Dáil Mr Kenny has agreed to abolish the controversial Economic Management Council, which was seen as subventing the power of Cabinet.
Other ministers appointed were Richard Bruton (education), Charlie Flanagan (foreign affairs), Heather Humphreys (regional development and rural affairs), Denis Naughten (communications and climate change), and Katherine Zappone (children and youth affairs). Meath East TD Regina Doherty was named as chief whip, while Paul Kehoe and Finian McGrath were named as super junior ministers.
The Cabinet held its first meeting after they received their seals of office from President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.
It was also confirmed that Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran lost out to Sean Canney for a junior ministerial position after they tossed a coin to decide. The position is to be rotated in a year’s time.
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