Dempsey: Taoiseach was planning Cabinet reshuffle weeks ago

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was today expected to reshuffle his Cabinet after an exodus of four ministers.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was today expected to reshuffle his Cabinet after an exodus of four ministers.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, one of those standing down, claimed late-night resignations en masse had been planned by Mr Cowen.

The retiring TD suggested the Taoiseach had been preparing to assemble a new Cabinet for weeks and had been timing it for the run-up to elections.

Voters are expecting to go to the polls in the next three months with coalition partners the Greens demanding a date in late March.

But the junior Government party is understood to be frustrated over the sudden departures.

John Gormley, Green leader and Environment Minister, spoke to Mr Cowen about the Cabinet vacancies this morning and will discuss the expected reshuffle with his parliamentary party later today.

One of the Green Party’s outspoken backbenchers, Paul Gogarty, said the ministerial walkouts threatened to make a farce of government.

He said the resignations – Mary Harney from health, Dermot Ahern from justice, Mr Dempsey from transport and Tony Killeen from defence, following Micheal Martin from foreign affairs after a failed leadership challenge – had little to do with the country‘s interest.

Mr Gogarty said if he was an independent he would vote against any reshuffle.

“No matter what the motivations of the individuals concerned, appointing five new ministers at this critical juncture would smack of jobs for the boys and cosmetic surgery for endangered candidates in need of a makeover,” said Mr Gogarty.

“To do so would show a serious lack of political judgment, a lack of empathy for what the people of Ireland are going through and of course may have unintended consequences.”

The Greens announced last November they were pulling out of Government and wanted a date set at the end of this month for the general election.

Mr Gogarty said the departure of Ms Harney, a former Tánaiste and Progressive Democrat leader, was expected while Mr Martin‘s resignation had been honourable.

The three other senior Fianna Fáil ministers had previously signalled their intention not to seek re-election, but their mass departure was unexpected.

Rebel backbench Fianna Fáil TD Ned O‘Keeffe said the resignations and looming reshuffle was cynical and would do more damage to his party.

Controversy over empty Cabinet seats follows a week of turmoil for the Taoiseach after he initially faced down questions over his leadership of Fianna Fáil, then spent a weekend consulting TDs before coming out victorious in a motion of confidence in himself as party chief on Tuesday night.

Mr Dempsey said he expected the Taoiseach to announce his new Cabinet later today.

“If it’s not done today, it couldn’t be done until the Dáil reassembles next week and I don’t see any reason to delay at this time,” the retiring TD said.

The outgoing transport minister also revealed Mr Cowen first indicated a few weeks ago that he intended a reshuffle before the election.

“I think the Taoiseach has made a decision that it is in the best interest of the country to have new people in place to refresh the Government even for the last number of months,” he said.

Mr Gogarty said his party had stood back as Fianna Fáil sorted out its internal problems and was focused on passing legislation like the Finance Bill over the coming weeks.

“Now we have the surreal situation of five vacant positions in a Government reaching its natural shelf life following our announcement on November 22nd last,” he said.

“You couldn’t invent this stuff.

“One can only hope that the Taoiseach will refuse to accept these resignations and tell his colleagues to get on with the important business of state for the remaining few weeks. This seems unlikely, however.”

He called for junior ministers to be allowed to take over the roles without being handed the senior positions.

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan claimed the orchestrated resignations were an act of unparalleled political cynicism by the Taoiseach.

“In the time available between now and the general election, the new ministers will barely have time to find their way to their departments, never mind make any impact on policy or the administration of their departments,” she said.

“This is simply an effort to give threatened Fianna Fáil TDs a leg-up in the run-up to the election.

“However, if Mr Cowen believes that giving a few TDs the status of a new title and a ministerial car will save them from the wrath of the electorate, he is greatly mistaken.”

Ms O’Sullivan said the move further vindicates her party’s decision to table a motion of no confidence in the Government.

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