Gilmore plays it safe with new junior minister appointments
TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore avoided creating a major rift in his party yesterday by filling two junior ministerial vacancies with Labour stalwarts.
He adopted what was described as a "very safe and conservative" approach by giving the 'Super' Junior Housing and Planning position to Junior Minister Jan O'Sullivan (61), who will have the right to attend Cabinet but not vote on decisions.
Labour veteran Joe Costello (66) was promoted to her previous position as Junior Minister for Trade and Development, having overseen the election victory of President Michael D Higgins.
But there was disappointment for Junior Minister for Primary Care Roisin Shortall, who missed out after being strongly critical about several issues recently at Labour party meetings, including Budget cutbacks to teacher numbers in disadvantaged schools.
She also publicly criticised the Budget 'kite-flying' about a possible €50 charge for medical card holders -- which she said had alarmed older people. A Labour backbencher said there was no doubt that her "honesty" had cost her -- and that she was seen as someone who might cause tensions in Cabinet because she was "fundamental" on many issues.
Ms Shortall said last night that she did not want to comment on the appointments.
The general reaction of Labour TDs to the two appointments was positive, given that both Mr Costello and Ms O'Sullivan are well liked in the party.
Another backbencher said there would have been a "different temperature reading" if the more recently arrived junior minister Alan Kelly had been promoted to the 'super' junior minister position instead.
Mr Gilmore said yesterday he was "delighted" with the two appointments, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny said they both had a "wealth of experience".
The main vacancy arose after former junior minister Willie Penrose quit last month over the closure of Mullingar Barracks in his Longford-Westmeath constituency.
But there was good news for his former special adviser Aidan Culhane -- he is now going to regain his job, but as special adviser to Ms O'Sullivan.
Ms O'Sullivan said she would have more influence as a 'super junior' by sitting at the Cabinet table even though she would not be able to vote.
The Limerick City TD denied that she was being given a "poisoned chalice" given the problems with ghost estates, repossessions and homelessness that she will inherit.
"There are people really suffering out there, people who have difficulties with their mortgages and sleeping in the streets. I came into politics to make a difference, to do things and this is an area where there's a lot to be done," she said.
Mr Costello said he was sure that other Labour TDs who might have been disappointed to miss out would be successful in the future.
"I'm delighted to have got the nod, so to speak. It's a long arduous job ahead of us in the coming years and I'm certainly up for it," he said.
But despite his new position, he is still going to continue his protest outside the Mater Hospital every Saturday, which has been running for the past eight years.
Mr Costello said he would halt it once the new Accident and Emergency department opened there -- and he denied it was an anti-Government protest.