Cowen remarks suggest cabinet reshuffle on way

A WIDE-RANGING cabinet shake-up in the wake of Willie O’Dea’s resignation looked more likely last night, as the Taoiseach insisted he was in no hurry to complete his top team.

Brian Cowen’s move to take his time before replacing the defence minister sparked speculation that a broader reshuffle was on the cards.

Mr Cowen said he was happy to continue having the defence portfolio assigned to him for the present, which was seen by observers as a suggestion he may need extra time to make major changes to the Government’s front bench.

Pressure has been building on Mr Cowen from within Fianna Fáil to try and regain the political initiative with a radical cabinet overhaul. Calls for up to six of the 15 ministers to be replaced have come from within the high command of Fianna Fáil in the wake of the O’Dea resignation.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has come in for particular criticism over her handling of the key Enterprise and Employment brief, but she remains personally close to the Taoiseach.

Moving some of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s responsibilities has also been suggested as a way of lightening his work load as he battles cancer.

Mr O’Dea quit the cabinet when the Greens insisted his position was untenable after he was caught on tape attempting to smear a political rival with false allegations regarding a brothel.

Mr Cowen made his remarks after addressing the 40th meeting of the British Irish parliamentary assembly in Cavan where he insisted Ireland was on course for a strong economic recovery in 2011.

He said the Government had pushed through “tough and unpopular” measures which would steer the country back to prosperity.

Mr Cowen welcomed the devolution of policing and justice powers to the North in April, stating it would be a landmark moment for the peace process.

The assembly also heard Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy pledge to take stronger action against so-called head shops which peddle “legal highs”.

Mr Murphy addressed the assembly of British and Irish parliamentary members as he stressed the close cross-border co-operation which now exists with the PSNI.

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott also spoke at the conference where he said he had closer working relations with Mr Murphy than he had with neighbouring chief constables in England when he headed a police force there.


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