Greens on course for fourth minister's job in reshuffle
Cautious Cowen likely to make minimum changes in reshuffle
Published 22/03/2010 | 05:00
THE Greens are increasingly confident Brian Cowen will deliver them an extra junior minister to stabilise his coalition government.
The Taoiseach risks destabilising the Government if he does not succumb to pressure from Green Party leader John Gormley in the imminent Cabinet reshuffle, expected to be announced tomorrow.
There is now increasing acceptance within Fianna Fail ranks that offering the Greens a fourth ministerial job would copperfasten the party's support for the Government, as it aims to remain in office for its full term until 2012.
Meanwhile, a cautious Mr Cowen looks likely to make the minimum changes possible as he seeks to shore up his embattled Cabinet with a long-awaited reshuffle.
Final decisions are expected to be made today in advance of an anticipated announcement tomorrow.
Mr Gormley met Mr Cowen over the weekend and is due to meet him again today to press his party's case.
He is reportedly anxious to have the extra junior ministerial position agreed before he travels to Waterford for the Greens' annual convention on Friday.
It would also mean Mr Gormley does not have to give up his own cabinet seat to honour the bizarre 'rotation' agreement he made with party colleague Ciaran Cuffe before entering government.
Green Party deputy leader Mary White is the favourite to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Trevor Sargent.
The other junior ministerial job would go to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown TD Ciaran Cuffe due to his previous 'rotation' deal with Mr Gormley.
And this would allow Mr Gormley to retain his cabinet seat, alongside Communications Minister Eamon Ryan.
That would leave Mr Sargent and Paul Gogarty as the only Greens on the backbenches.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern originally promised the Greens in 2007 he would give them an extra ministerial role, and a Green Party source said yesterday: "If you make a deal, you keep a deal."
But Green Party members privately accept they cannot pull out of government simply because they are denied an extra junior ministry.
However, Mr Cowen is aware that a decision to deny them a minister could destabilise the relationship and shorten the lifespan of his government.
Mr Cowen is also likely to tiptoe around other personnel, issues including the much-criticised role of Tanaiste Mary Coughlan.
The Taoiseach continued to play his cards close to his chest at the opening of Scouting Ireland's National Council in his adopted home town of Tullamore. He spoke freely about his "many happy memories" of his days as a scout in Clara but declined to discuss other issues. "That's all you are getting," he said.
He knows he would risk adding to the ranks of rebel backbenchers in Fianna Fail if he were to drop long-established members of the Cabinet.
He is instead expected to confine his changes to filling the two vacancies left by the resignations of ministers Willie O'Dea and Martin Cullen.
The favourites for these positions include Junior Minister Tony Killeen, who is based in the mid-west, government chief whip Pat Carey, Junior Science Minister Conor Lenihan and Junior Labour Affairs Minister Dara Calleary.
Brendan Smith and Eamon O Cuiv are both expected to retain their places in Cabinet -- although either may be transferred to the Department of Defence.
The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs may be partly merged with the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism -- although the An Bord Snip group had recommended the abolition of both.
Fianna Fail backbenchers expect that Mr Cowen will remain loyal to Ms Coughlan, despite opposition calls for her to be moved out of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
However, the role of her department may be changed to deal with trade and tourism, while other responsibilities are transferred elsewhere.
There will be a powerful new Department of Economic Planning and Enterprise, while the FAS agency and its job training programmes will be transferred to the Department of Social and Family Affairs to create a "one stop shop" for tackling unemployment.
And the Equality section of the Department of Justice will be taken away from its minister, Dermot Ahern.
Mr Ahern has been mentioned in the party as a possible candidate to head the new Department of Economic Planning and Enterprise.
But one backbencher said Mr Cowen would be acutely aware it would also allow Mr Ahern to build up his credentials as a future leader of Fianna Fail.
Backbenchers are hoping this new department will help drive the economic recovery.
Mr Cowen is due to announce the creation of 100 jobs in the online auction company eBay today in Blanchardstown, Dublin -- the type of employment targeted by his Innovation Task Force.
But one Fianna Fail source warned that his talk of the 'Smart Economy' was off-putting to some of the newly unemployed, particularly former construction workers who thought the catchphrase excluded them.
Candidates for promotion: Tony Killeen
The Junior Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine is seen in the party as a competent performer and a loyal servant. However, he did vote against the Government in 1993 to mark his opposition to the ending of the Shannon Airport stop-over for transatlantic flights and resigned temporarily from the parliamentary party. But his greatest advantage is that he is located in the mid-west, which has been left without a senior minister following the resignation of Willie O'Dea.
The former teacher is another loyal defender of Fianna Fail and a good media performer.
But as chief whip he plays a vital role in keeping the Government in power (there have been some tight scrapes recently) by winning Dail votes and this may work against his chances of promotion.
Mr Lenihan, who visited Vietnam for the St Patrick's Day, is not afraid to go out to bat for the Government. He earned the support of immigrant groups during his time as Integration Minister and is now Junior Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation.
The Junior Minister for Drugs Strategy got alcohol included in the national drugs strategy (not as easy as it sounds, given the lobbying power of the drinks industry). And he has a powerful ally in cabinet in the form of Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe. If Government Chief Whip Pat Carey were to be promoted to a senior ministry, he would be the favourite to take over from him.
As Junior Minister for Overseas Development, Mr Power has been visiting projects tackling HIV/AIDs in South Africa and Lesotho for St Patrick's Day. He is seen as capable and would give Limerick city a voice again at the Cabinet table if promoted. But some Fianna Fail TDs doubt he will get the job because it could increase the sense of hurt felt by Willie O'Dea.
He was made Junior Minister for Labour Affairs after being elected to the Dail for the first time in 2007. That has put him ahead of fellow Fianna Fail Mayo TD Beverley Flynn, who said she had been promised a junior ministry by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He has been mentioned as a possible contender for the Department of Economic Planning and Enterprise.