Cowen drops clues of strategy for his Cabinet reshuffle
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night gave his firmest indication yet that his impending reshuffle will focus on realigning government departments rather than culling members of the Cabinet.
Mr Cowen said his main priorities were setting up the Government to deal with tackling the economic crisis, public sector reform and implementing a hi-tech business strategy. He also said at the annual National Small Business Awards, which are organised by the Small Firms Association (SFA), that he would not let public spending, debt and income taxes spiral out of control.
Mr Cowen added he was determined to see credit lines from the banks restored to small and medium businesses. "For the second half of last year, we put a major effort into three objectives: the Lisbon referendum, the NAMA legislation and the Budget.
"Now, the priorities are the reorganisation of the way we do business at government and departmental levels to align ourselves with economic imperatives, the further reform of our public services and the implementation of our innovation agenda."
The Taoiseach is expected to have two senior ministerial vacancies to fill, with Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister Martin Cullen tipped to resign and Willie O'Dea's defence post also vacant.
However, the reshuffle is not expected to take place for another three weeks, after Mr Cowen returns from his St Patrick's Day visit to United States. And the Green Party is trying to get a fourth ministerial post from Mr Cowen. One internal Green proposal is that Environment Minister John Gormley hands his position over to Ciaran Cuffe.
In this rotation, Mr Gormley could become a super junior minister, possibly for public sector reform, with the Greens retaining another junior ministerial slot.
Fianna Fail's Dick Roche, a former college lecturer with a master's degree in public administration, has also been mentioned as a minister for public sector reform.
Mr Gormley is understood to be in talks with Mr Cowen about getting an extra position for his party, in line with a deal struck on entering coalition in 2007. During his speech to the SFA last night, Mr Cowen also said the banks needed to be "fit for purpose" again.
"Fit and ready to support your working capital needs; fit and ready to support your well-thought-out expansion plans; fit and ready again to restore a true relationship with you and all their customers, built on trust and economic business realism," he said.
He added that the NAMA process, which is getting under way at the moment, is not all that needs to be done to fix the banks.
"We don't claim NAMA solves everything. We don't say NAMA is all we need to do. We are certainly not telling the banks that working with NAMA is all they need to do.
"They know that we, the Government, taxpayers, the business community and our whole society, expect and demand a lot more than that.
"The Government is resolute and determined that our central and indispensable objective for banking will be achieved -- the provision of normal credit on fair, commercial terms in our economy to business, large, medium and small, and to personal customers.