“I GOT a good belt of that olive branch, didn’t I?” Fergus O’Dowd joked as Enda Kenny unveiled his attempt at post-heave healing.
But Mr O’Dowd was the only rebel with anything to smile about as he was actually promoted from transport to education in the reshuffle, while other plotters were expected to be grateful to be kept on at all.
The delicate balancing act of revenge and redemption doled out by Enda Kenny saw six of the 11 frontbench rebels, including Brian Hayes, Denis Naughten and Michael Creed, damned to the wilderness, while the archly ambitious Leo Varadkar had his wings clipped with demotion from enterprise to energy, while Simon Coveney was left dangling in the breeze until the announcement was made that he would take transport.
Mr Kenny said that “geography and gender” had played a big part in his decision and being from Dublin was definitely a bonus for the big winner in the Kenny camp, James Reilly, as he was catapult- ed to the post of deputy leader.
Fine Gael has fallen badly behind Labour in Dublin and Mr Reilly will be tasked with trying to regain ground there, but as he has only been a TD for three years, he will be on a steep learning curve, which some fear he may not be ready for.
The return of former leader Michael Noonan to the frontbench provides the gravitas needed for the finance portfolio, but also highlights the fact no one from the outgoing shadow cabinet was strong enough to fill Richard Bruton’s shoes.
While Mr Noonan hardly has a record of popularity with the voters, his cabinet experience and ability to handle himself in a parliamentary scrap will make him a worthy adversary for Brian Lenihan.
Mr Bruton’s decision to ride out rebukes for going back on his pledge not to serve in another Kenny shadow cabinet leaves him open to the hypocrisy charges he himself instigated, but his installment in the enterprise portfolio gives a strong counterweight to Noonan as the next election will be fought on the economy and the economy alone.
With rebels Olwyn Enright and Olivia Mitchell ruling themselves out of a return to the top team, Fine Gael’s woeful lack of women TDs saw Mr Kenny effectively make up roles for Catherine Byrne as spokeswoman on older citizens issues and Deirdre Clune at innovation and research, as neither portfolio shadows a cabinet rank.
The promotion of Alan Shatter to the justice post will give edge to the party’s law and order agenda as the Dublin TD has been highly effective in holding the Govern- ment and the HSE to account in the previously low-key role of children’s spokesman.
Former education spokesman Mr Hayes was seen as the man singled out for most punishment by Mr Kenny who decided it was payback time following a history of tension between the two.
With rebel spirits as crushed as their cack- handed coup attempt, Mr Hayes is unlikely to emerge as some Michael Heseltine figure waiting for his moment to act as assassin from the back benches.
Mr Kenny brushed aside suggestions the discarded rebels will be waiting for him in the long grass.
“In the Fine Gael party of the future there will be no long grass, it was all cut a couple of weeks ago and it will take a very long time to grow again,” he said triumphantly.
And while there is certainly no appetite for another heave, Mr Kenny needs to remember what a close shave saving his leadership actually was.
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