Cowen ready to ditch veterans in ministerial line-up

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen will announce his junior ministers today amid speculation he will jettison several veterans in favour of up-and-coming TDs.

It is understood that all the existing junior ministers were summoned to Dublin last night, with those facing the axe called in for individual meetings with Mr Cowen.

Mr Cowen’s junior ministerial line-up will go before today’s cabinet meeting for approval as a technicality. It is expected to be announced later this evening.

One of Mr Cowen’s Laois-Offaly running mates, John Moloney, is among those being tipped for promotion to the junior ministerial ranks, together with Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Michael Finneran and Limerick East TD Peter Power.

Mr Cowen has already shown willingness to promote younger TDs, appointing Dún Laoghaire backbencher Barry Andrews, 40, as the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs last week.

In contrast, Mr Cowen’s predecessor, Bertie Ahern, tended to wait until TDs had served at least two terms in the Dáil before considering them for ministerial ranks.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen will face his first grilling as taoiseach from opposition leaders in the Dáil today.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and his Labour counterpart Eamon Gilmore will have their first proper chance to quiz Mr Cowen on important national issues during leaders’ questions.

In particular, the exchanges between Mr Cowen and Mr Kenny will be closely watched, with a certain amount of pressure already on the Fine Gael leader to show he is capable of getting to grips with the Taoiseach.

Leaders’ questions is the segment of the Dáil agenda where opposition leaders have the opportunity to raise issues of their choosing with the Taoiseach.

Typically, these questions focus on the significant news stories of the day, be they related to health, crime, education or similar.

Mr Cowen took leaders’ questions on several occasions in recent years, deputising for Bertie Ahern when the then taoiseach was out of the country on government business.

This led to a bitter clash in February, when Mr Cowen told Mr Kenny he was “neither qualified nor able” to evaluate the evidence being heard about Mr Ahern’s personal finances at the Mahon tribunal.

However, last week, Mr Kenny made light of the February clash, when speaking in the Dáil prior to the appointment of Mr Cowen as taoiseach.

“We are now five weeks from the referendum decision on the Lisbon treaty. This will be the first electoral challenge for the taoiseach-elect. He is aware that the Fine Gael party for many months has been campaigning openly, publicly and strongly in favour of a yes vote on the Lisbon referendum,” Mr Kenny said.

“I am sure that by now, if he has not done so already, the taoiseach-elect will recognise I am both qualified and able to make a judgment on a matter like that,” the Fine Gael leader added with a smile.

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