Cosmetic. This was how Leo Varadkar’s Cabinet reshuffle was described by one Fine Gael TD.
Even the newly elected Taoiseach’s own supporters were scratching their heads over the lineup at Government Buildings, with a few cribbing about the surprise reappointment of some ministers while others bemoaning the lack of surprises.
There were gargantuan expectations around the need for fresh faces and policies upon Varadkar’s takeover from Enda Kenny.
Varadkar’s second nominator for Taoiseach, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, spoke in the Dáil about her new leader having the courage and bravery to lead.
But only hours after his reshuffle, Varadkar was under fire from his peers for failing to make that leap when it came to appointing his team.
There were questions about a shock decision to keep embattled Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor at Cabinet. In a desperate attempt to cling to power, she was able to argue what super junior position she preferred with her new boss. It was all very public, sources confirmed.
Fine Gael backbenchers were almost irate at what they saw as the “plum” post of Enterprise gifted to Minister Frances Fitzgerald, on top of her remaining as Tánaiste.
Party TDs have been scorched by constituents over the numerous Garda scandals and feel Fitzgerald did not do enough to stamp out the crises burning up the force. Some also question her replacement in Justice and wonder why Charlie Flanagan, while accomplished and prudent, was moved across from Foreign Affairs.
Overall, it wasn’t so much a case of Fine Gael TDs questioning why ministers stayed put as wondering why they were not replaced.
And this is the problem for Varadkar: The huge expectation of change.
But, of course, the 38-year-old leader saw this coming, warning last week that there would be disappointments. During his debut speech as Taoiseach, he highlighted that other mid-term’taoisigh, including Sean Lemass and John Bruton, had a “significant effect”.
One of Varadkar’s dilemmas will be making big changes to Government in a weak Fine Gael minority administration, preparing for a budget in around 100 days — a Government trying to emerge unscathed after a divisive leadership election process at that.
Some of Varadkar’s closest allies privately say there may be a reshuffle before next summer in anticipation of an election and that is when the Taoiseach will appoint his own commanders.
In the meantime, some portfolios will be reformed. Iveagh House will oversee Ireland’s response to Brexit, while the new role of rural affairs will ensure the Varadkar administration maintains its focus outside the capital. He has also put his trusted lieutenant and election campaign manager, Eoghan Murphy, in charge of Housing.
Change can be slow in politics, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a leader lacks courage. Nonetheless, Varadkar’s honeymoon period as a leader will be limited.
Indeed, at a heated attempt at a “doorstep” with the new Taoiseach yesterday, a hungry hack put it to him that his new Cabinet was nothing short of a little Botox added.
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