Cowen 'was advised not to appoint new Ministers'

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was urged to keep retiring ministers in their jobs until the election, it was revealed today.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was urged to keep retiring ministers in their jobs until the election, it was revealed today.

After six resignations from 15 Cabinet positions the Taoiseach tried to parachute in loyal party colleagues even though he was warned against it.

The Green Party threatened to pull the plug and one of his own ministers disapproved.

Mary Hanafin, Tourism and now Enterprise Minister, called for TDs who wanted to stand down from Cabinet to be ordered to continue their work “in the interests of the country”.

Ms Hanafin said she personally advised the Taoiseach not to appoint six new ministers.

“Minister Mary Hanafin told the Taoiseach this morning that the retiring ministers should stay in their portfolios until the election in the interests of the country,” a spokeswoman for Ms Hanafin said.

Ms Hanafin had voted against Mr Cowen in Tuesday’s leadership challenge but at the same time vowed to remain in office for the last weeks of the Government.

“She had decided earlier this week not to resign herself as she felt that stability was needed in the final months of the Government,” her spokeswoman said.

“She also told the Taoiseach that if the resignations were to be accepted, then the portfolios should be resigned to existing ministers as additional responsibilities rather than appointing new ministers.”

Sources said TDs were being selected for the Cabinet on a geographical basis with the election in mind.

Double-jobbing ministers will have to survive 51 days until polling day, March 11.

Neither of the Green ministers, John Gormley and Eamon Ryan – who did not attend the Taoiseach’s Cabinet announcement in the Dáil – were told of the developments in advance, they said.

Mr Cowen took control of the Department of Foreign Affairs after rebel Micheál Martin’s leadership challenge failed on Tuesday night.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who already holds the Education brief, has taken over at the helm of the Department of Health and Children after Mary Harney’s resignation and retirement from politics.

Brendan Smith, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is elevated to his most senior position in Cabinet for the next seven weeks by taking over at the Department of Justice and Law Reform.

Outgoing minister Dermot Ahern retired from politics due to ill-health.

Rebel Tourism Minister Ms Hanafin, who went against Mr Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail in Tuesday’s vote of confidence, has been rewarded with the extra duties of attracting jobs and business through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.

Eamon O Cuiv who is tackling one of the biggest ever welfare budgets in the Department of Social Protection has been given the responsibility of the Department of Defence.

Tony Killeen announced his retirement following medical advice at the turn of the year. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008.

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey was called on to double-up with the Department of Transport. Noel Dempsey left that brief also retiring from the front-line.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan remained free to oversee his hugely pressurised department with the Finance Bill being published tomorrow.

Later, the Taoiseach said his supporters from grassroots up to the Dail wanted the Cabinet reshuffle in the run-up to the election.

“I was reflecting the majority view of my parliamentary party, of my front bench and of my organisation,” he said.

“We have been going round conventions preparing with candidates and people saying ’You must make sure you change the front line’.”

He added: “Mary (Hanafin) is in the minority in terms of the front bench... but she is entitled to her view.”

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