Burton was not passed over, says Coalition
SENIOR figures from both Fine Gael and Labour last night sought to play down the controversy over Joan Burton's appointment as Social Protection Minister, as it threatened to cast a shadow over the new Government.
Ms Burton was widely tipped to get the Public Expenditure and Reform brief, which arose from the split in the Department of Finance, when Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore handed out the Labour cabinet posts this week.
But in a surprise move that caused some anger within Labour, he instead gave the Dublin West TD the Social Protection job -- even though she was finance spokeswoman for almost a decade, and is the party's deputy leader.
Brendan Howlin, who was given the Public Expenditure and Reform brief, said Ms Burton could have taken any cabinet post, but Mr Gilmore had to make a decision.
Ms Burton last night maintained a dignified silence and was starting work in her department. Her spokesman said she wouldn't be making any comment, but was looking forward to getting stuck into her brief.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he believed Mr Howlin's previous experience as senior minister in two separate departments stood to him.
A Fine Gael cabinet source said Ms Burton and Mr Howlin sat next to each other at yesterday's cabinet meeting and there were no tensions between the pair. "Joan has got a big department; a good bit of the FAS budget is gone to Social Protection," the senior minister said. "I don't know what all the fuss is about."
Mr Howlin described Ms Burton as "one of the most competent people in public life".
"There is no cabinet position that she wouldn't grace with complete competence, and that's true of a number of people within my party," he said.