An absence of female ministers, punishment of his opponents, and the failure to promote several TDs were some of the complaints over Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s junior ministerial appointments.
It was going to be impossible to satisfy all 34 Fine Gael TDs who are not at Cabinet, including those clinging onto their portfolios, so Mr Varadkar had tough decisions to make.
Everything comes into play when promoting, reappointing and demoting junior ministers, including gender, geography and ability.
Talent and loyalty were two characteristics stressed again and again by Mr Varadkar’s advisors in the run-up to yesterday’s decision. But there were some surprise appointments.
Meath East TD Helen McEntee will be seen as one of the biggest winners of the junior ministerial reshuffle. In EU Affairs, she will work under the Department of Taoiseach and gets one of the top jobs, especially for Brexit talks, where Ireland will need to fight and keep pace at negotiations.
Two other winners were Wexford’s Michael D’Arcy and Limerick County’s Patrick O’Donovan, who take up roles as junior finance ministers.
Mr D’Arcy will oversee the 60,000-strong financial sector workers, while Mr O’Donovan will control public procurement. This puts Limerick back on the map, after the senior reshuffle left no minister from there.
While Mr Varadkar rewarded the south-east with Mr D’Arcy, as well as the promotion of Carlow-Kilkenny’s John Paul Phelan to the department of housing, not everyone won out.
The shock in the reshuffle was a decision not to gift Waterford’s John Deasy some junior job. A TD for 15 years, Mr Deasy is sometimes seen as aloof by party colleagues but is judged as experienced and capable, as witnessed by his previous work in the Public Accounts Committee.
But government sources said not everyone in the south east could be rewarded.
Furthermore, “other ways” will be used to reward disappointed TDs, say informed sources.
This is also expected to be the case for Louth’s Fergus O’Dowd, a very experienced TD and former minister, who was left out despite strong opposition to Enda Kenny’s tenure for some time.
Other noteworthy decisions included the demotion of Cork North Central’s Dara Murphy, who had experience with Brexit as EU affairs minister and who went as far as appealing to the new Taoiseach to keep him in his role.
But he backed Mr Varadkar’s leadership rival Simon Coveney and was always in the firing line. By yesterday afternoon, only moments after getting that disappointing call from Mr Varadkar, he was packing up his office.
Moreover, there are objections to the demotion of Laois-Offaly’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy from health, although Government sources argue she was unable to get the highly-anticipated alcohol bill passed despite it starting out in the Seanad a year ago.
Her omission and the lack of promotion of women in general for junior posts drew the ire of the opposition, who noted just seven out of 34 junior and senior jobs had gone to women.
The National Women’s Council also stressed that the “same old gender imbalance” was there.
Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar’s advisors pointed to the fact that the Tánaiste was a woman, that Meath’s Regina Doherty got a senior role in that reshuffle, and that Ms McEntee got one of the top junior jobs.
Furthermore, it was emphasised that Varadkar could not promote any ‘class of 2016’ first-time Fine Gael TDs this time.
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