Supporting roles in focus as Taoiseach finalises junior ranks

The spotlight is now firmly fixed on Taoiseach Enda Kenny as he finalises the shake-up of his junior government ranks, writes Political Correspondent Shaun Connolly

IF Norman Mailer was correct and politics really is showbusiness for ugly people, then the eve of a reshuffle is like the build-up to the Oscars — lots of nominees, few statuettes.

And in this scenario, the red carpet is that colour because of the old blood being spilled to make way for the new.

In the absence of Access Hollywood, everyone tries to tune into Access Enda in order to attempt to gauge what is going on as the Taoiseach finalises his shake-up of his junior ranks.

Nominees for the chopping-block look to include business minister John Perry who has been out-staged in the Jobs and Enterprise Department by rising star Gerald Nash, the Labour man made a “super junior” there in the shuffle of the top deck last week.

Mr Perry was also at the centre of an unwanted drama last year when he faced a commercial court judgment against him over a €2.47m debt before arranging a deal to restructure the loans.

But Mr Perry is determined to fight to save his position and, like Fergus O’Dowd, is attempting to rally support among colleagues to be kept on.

Ones to watch include popular, no nonsense, Fine Gael TD in the Midlands, Damien English, who must feel he has paid his penance for being on the wrong side of the anti-Enda heave by solidly sticking-up for the Government across TV and radio for three years on the backbenches.

In the Fine Gael cast of characters, Simon Harris denied he was persuaded to stand in the Euro elections on the promise that if he failed to land a berth in Brussels, he would be rewarded with a junior post in the reshuffle.

Against the odds, Mr Harris almost took a Euro seat and would be disappointed to miss out again in the ministerial manoeuvring — deal or no deal. Dublin’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor was rumoured to be in the mix for the Cabinet Arts post which went to Heather Humphreys, and will be seeking a second-tier slot as consolation.

As with Tinsel Town, there is a feeling Mr Kenny needs to be seen to give more substantive roles to women as he directs the ensemble into place.

Indeed the Taoiseach had to reach out to the back benches to elevate Ms Humphreys because so few female TDs were waiting in the Cabinet wings to move up from under-study to lead.

Such a change in the narrative would see Regina Doherty a strong contender for greater things.

Promotions to Cabinet and exits to Europe leave key junior roles like Europe and Finance/OPW in play, as well as talk of an opening for a newcomer with the creation of a rural affairs post.

Reviews have not been good for former PD Ciarán Cannon, and Dinny McGinley, as both are said to have given uninspiring performances and may be asked to exit stage right to make way for fresh talent.

With just over 18 months to go until the curtain falls on this Dáil at the slated general election — if the Coalition holds together that long — the new ministers will have little time to make an impact on policy, but may hope to impress voters back home with their elevation.

On the Labour front, Michael McCarthy made a good impression during the deputy leadership contest despite just missing out on the runner-up spot, and will be disappointed not to get the nod.

But with Kathleen Lynch confirmed as remaining at health with an expanded role, what would that mean for Seán Sherlock? Will Ms Burton have half of her six junior portfolios filled with Cork TDs? The party did suffer even more badly in Cork than it did in Dublin at the disastrous May local and Euro polls and Ms Burton has a tough job rebuilding a base line in both cities.

In Dublin, Joanna Tuffy, who was one of only two Labour TDs to oppose coalition with Fine Gael, is in the mix for gender and geography reasons, as well as ability.

Kerry TD Arthur Spring was one of the first to demand a new direction for the party after the May wipe-out and will be hoping for a post as one of the leaders of Generation Next.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan nominated Ms Burton for the leadership would hope to have her loyalty rewarded, while Wicklow’s Anne Ferris is also attracting chatter. Would-be political stars hoping for a close-up with sub-Cabinet power include Dara Murphy, Andrew Doyle, and Eoghan Murphy for Fine Gael and Kevin Humphreys and John Lyons for Labour.

As the lights fade on some careers and shine into life on others, it is now over to the Taoiseach to take centre stage, open the envelope, and announce: “The award for best minister in a supporting role goes to....”


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