Sunday 23 July 2017

Kenny puts paid to leadership hopes of Varadkar and Coveney

Back row from left: Heather Humphreys; Michael Creed; Paul Kehoe; Katherine Zappone; Finian McGrath; Shane Ross; Mary Mitchell-O'Connor; Charlie Flanagan; Regina Doherty; Simon Harris; Denis Naughten; Pascal Donohoe and Máire Whelan. Front row: Simon Coveney; Michael Noonan; Enda Kenny; President Michael D Higgins; Frances Fitzgerald; Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Back row from left: Heather Humphreys; Michael Creed; Paul Kehoe; Katherine Zappone; Finian McGrath; Shane Ross; Mary Mitchell-O'Connor; Charlie Flanagan; Regina Doherty; Simon Harris; Denis Naughten; Pascal Donohoe and Máire Whelan. Front row: Simon Coveney; Michael Noonan; Enda Kenny; President Michael D Higgins; Frances Fitzgerald; Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The new ministers standing before President Michael D Higgins and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE
Michael Creed Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Enda Kenny's first major decision as returning Taoiseach was to dampen the leadership hopes of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

The Fine Gael leader moved to suppress the frontrunners for his position by demoting one to Social Protection and making the other responsible for the housing and water crises.

At the same time, Mr Kenny promoted the career paths of Frances Fitzgerald and Paschal Donohoe.

And 29-year-old Simon Harris is to take over the crisis-ridden Department of Health.

On a day of political farce, Mr Kenny was re-elected as Taoiseach with the help of nine Independents, after a massive bust-up with Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice threatened to detail the process.

Eventually, the Roscommon TD abstained, but his five Independent Alliance colleagues and two members of the Rural Alliance backed Mr Kenny, along with Michael Lowry and Katherine Zappone.

The Taoiseach then introduced five new names to the Cabinet. They included Independents Denis Naughten (Minister for Climate Change), Katherine Zappone (Minister for Children) and Shane Ross (Minister for Transport).

Mary Mitchell O'Connor is to be the new Minister for Jobs and Enterprise and Michael Creed will be Minister for Agriculture.

But it was the decision to put Mr Varadkar into Social Protection that caused the largest surprise.

Several of his Fine Gael colleagues last night said he was "shafted" after being seen by some as obstructive during the weeks of negotiations with Independents.

The Irish Independent understands that Mr Varadkar was keen to leave health after just over two years - but had hoped to get Foreign Affairs or Enterprise.

Mr Harris is believed to have been lined up for Social Protection before the Taoiseach decided to make a last minute switch with Mr Varadkar.

Sources close to the minister last night insisted he was "over the moon" with the appointment.

They noted that it has the second biggest budget after the Department of Health and Fine Gael has not held the position in three decades.

Mr Varadkar said that he viewed the move as "a big opportunity".

"I'm going to continue to be outspoken," he said, adding: "On a certain level, I'm sorry to be leaving Health but there's a lot of real opportunities in the department of Social Protection."

The Programme for Government commits the new administration to ending the homeless crisis and this task has been handed to Simon Coveney. His Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is also understood to be in charge of water.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will serve as Tánaiste, while Paschal Donohoe will take over the Department of Public Expenditure.

As part of the trade-off for their support, Mr Kenny has also promised a number of Independents junior ministries.

Independent Alliance TD Finian McGrath is to be a 'super junior' with responsibility for disabilities and will sit at the Cabinet table.

Other Alliance members Sean Canney and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran are set to rotate a Minister of State position on an annual basis, while John Halligan will also get a junior ministry for one year before handing it over to a Fine Gael TD. Enda Kenny's party is also to back Dr Michael Harty of the Rural Alliance for the chairman of a new Oireachtas Health Committee.

The new ministers now have until May 17 to study their portfolios before the Dáil sits again.

Addressing the Dáil, Mr Kenny accepted many people had not felt a revival in the economy in the six years.

He said his minority Government had been formed in "almost unprecedented circumstances" which created room for a new and inclusive democracy.

"Everyone will have the opportunity to play a constructive role as we work in partnership together to build a better Ireland," he said.

"It will be a great test of our democracy, of our character and indeed of this house, a test that I am convinced that we will pass," he added.

Mr Kenny said the hung parliament thrown up by the election meant no party had a mandate to "instruct, force, direct or coerce" anyone else.

"We therefore must all work together in the best interests of all our people," he said.

He was re-elected Taoiseach by 59 votes to 49, largely with thanks to the abstention of Fianna Fáil.

Following the vote, Mr Kenny received his seal of office from President Michael D Higgins.

It is expected that Ministers of State will be announced on Monday.

Irish Independent

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