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Monday 29 May 2017

I knew about job switch fortnight ago -- Coughlan

Michael Brennan and Paddy Clancy

TANAISTE Mary Coughlan yesterday revealed she knew about her controversial cabinet switch a full two weeks before Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced it in the Dail.

Meanwhile, many Fianna Fail TDs are still surprised at the decision to transfer Mary Hanafin from the Department of Social Welfare, which has a budget of €21bn and almost 5,000 staff, to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which has a budget of €368m and around 1,400 staff.

But Ms Coughlan said she wasn't surprised by the reshuffle as she knew she was moving to the Department of Education and Skills a full fortnight ago from discussions with Mr Cowen.

"I had fairly strong conversations over the last two weeks in supporting him and making his decisions," she said.

Ms Coughlan had revealed the plan to transfer the job-training functions of her Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the Department of Social and Family Affairs (as it was then known) two weeks before Mr Cowen's announcement of the reshuffle in the Dail.

Donegal-based Fianna Fail senator Brian O'Domhnaill said he was not surprised Ms Coughlan had been working closely with Mr Cowen on the reshuffle.

"Mary Coughlan would be a very loyal supporter and work colleague of Brian Cowen.

"He sees her potential and I know she can make a very valuable contribution to education," he said.

Some Fianna Fail backbenchers were still expressing surprise at Mr Cowen's decision to move Ms Hanafin to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport last night.

She was seen as having performed well in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, where she shepherded through the controversial cuts of 4.1pc to most social welfare payments in the Budget, published the national pension reform plan and cracked down on social welfare fraud.

And she had a good relationship with Fianna Fail backbenchers, after previously having been accused of not paying enough attention to their requests when she was in the Department of Education.

Demotion

But Junior Minister for Older People and Health Promotion Aine Brady denied Ms Hanafin had suffered a demotion.

"I think people are very pleased she has taken over this portfolio because the tourism industry is so important to this country.

I don't think it's a demotion, I think it's a very important industry and it's wonderful to have someone with her dynamic personality in that department," she said.

Another Fianna Fail backbencher said he genuinely believed that Mr Cowen had made the move because he wanted Ms Hanafin to revive the struggling Irish tourist industry.

He pointed out that the previous two ministers -- Martin Cullen and the late Seamus Brennan -- had both been suffering from illnesses.

Irish Independent

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