Daniel McConnell: 'Humble' TDs eschew ministerial office for the backbenches

What is it about politicians these days in that they don’t want a promotion?
Daniel McConnell: 'Humble' TDs eschew ministerial office for the backbenches
Jim O'Callaghan: Bowed out in style. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie
Jim O'Callaghan: Bowed out in style. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

What is it about politicians these days in that they don’t want a promotion?

A spate of humble modesty has come over a plethora of leading TDs who decided to eschew ministerial office for a life on the backbenches instead.

We knew Eoghan Murphy had all but been ruled out weeks ago, Paul Kehoe apparently told his party leader he was happy after nine years at Cabinet.

Outgoing Joe McHugh had a bit more of a diva-esque exit, reportedly turning down two separate offers of jobs from Leo Varadkar.

But it went to Fianna Fáil’s bit of posh, Senior Counsel Jim O’Callaghan, who bowed out of contention in style.

Having been offered the important job of junior justice minister, the Law Library’s great defender told his leader and new Taoiseach Micheál Martin no.

In a statement he said: “I was asked to accept an appointment as minister of state in the government. Having thought carefully about this offer I have decided not to accept,” he said.

“The reason I am not accepting is because I believe my energy and abilities will be better used as a backbench Fianna Fáil TD rather than as a junior member of government.

“At a time when many of our party’s senior members will be preoccupied with their ministerial duties, I want to devote more time to strengthening our great party by making it a more attractive option for young voters. I also believe Fianna Fáil needs strong voices outside government who can ensure that our party’s identity can be protected during the term of this coalition government.

“I wish Micheál and his government every success in the years ahead.”

In other words, O’Callaghan can begin his leadership campaign from the backbenches unfettered by the distraction of ministerial burdens. It will also allow him to continue to practice as a lawyer, which as a Senior Counsel is not an insignificant revenue stream.

O’Callaghan’s refusal allowed the well-regarded Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue to assume the junior justice role.

As predicted, Galway East’s Anne Rabbitte and Waterford TD Mary Butler both were elevated after their disappointment at the weekend.

There was redemption for Limerick TD Niall Collins after ‘vote-gate’ with him being appointed as a junior minister at the newly created department of higher education.

A big reward for Dublin West TD Jack Chambers who is to be a junior minister at the Department of Finance, working alongside Paschal Donohoe.

As we revealed on Saturday, Meath East TD Thomas Byrne was appointed to the prestigious post of Minister for European Affairs, previously held by his constituency rival Helen McEntee, the new minister for Justice.

Another popular TD Robert Troy will work alongside Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar in the Department of Enterprise.

However, Mr Martin’s authority was already being undermined by his former party whip and Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan who said his exclusion was an insult to him and his community. “I worked extremely hard over the past nine years to rebuild the party, took a lot of shit for him but got no thanks,” he said.

For Mr Varadkar, there was little surprise as to his picks.

Josepha Madigan becomes the minister for school buses, often seen as the “worst" junior ministry going.

While Damien English and Patrick O’Donovan kept their jobs, Peter Burke, Colm Brophy, and Martin Heydon clearly benefitted from being the boot boys who went out on TV and radio to defend the party in trying times when no one else would.

The inclusion of Frank Feighan is said to have come about because of McHugh’s decision to stand aside, but Feighan who endured many dark days and lost his seat over the downgrading of Roscommon Hospital in 2011 will feel vindicated.

As for the Greens, not one woman appointed in addition to Pippa Hackett who was plucked from the Seanad to sit at Cabinet on Saturday.

Ossian Smyth, Joe O’Brien, and Malcolm Noonan were all selected despite strong speculation that Neasa Hourigan would have been given the junior finance portfolio.

While the leaders certainly addressed the geographical imbalance in government, they more than failed the gender balance issue, which could easily come back to haunt it.

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