Politics

Wednesday 20 August 2014

John Drennan: The Kerryman's guide to Cabinet reshuffles

John Drennan

Published 09/07/2014 | 11:42

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One of the most curious features of cabinet reshuffles is that people are surprised they generally do not go too well.

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In fact this is not at all surprising for the cabinet shuffle is the equivalent of the man from Kerry who on being asked for directions sagely replies, ‘well if you were going there I wouldn’t start from here’.

The Dail shuffle is similar in the sense that it generally triggered by a political landscape where the government does not want to be.

Unsurprisingly reshuffles of a significant nature never occur when the government is thriving.

After all why on earth, if he has secured the miracle of a competent cabinet, would a Taoiseach go through all of the misery and uncertainty of the political equivalent of hiring a serial killer as the nanny?

Instead the reshuffle generally only occurs when the government is in some class of trouble ... which Irish administrations permanently appear to be.

The generally disastrous history of Irish re-shuffles certainly appears to shore up the ‘Kerry directions’ theory.

Nothing epitomizes this more than the Garret Fitzgerald reshuffle of 1986 where an increasingly unpopular leader of a rapidly imploding Fine Gael Labour coalition nearing the end of its term – does that sound familiar Enda - attempted to revive its fortunes with a radical reshuffle.

Instead the whole ramshackle construct was collapsed by Barry Desmond’s refusal, literally, to move from the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare.

Outside of Gemma Hussey, who having been promised the delights of a European Ministry found herself being plunged into the Lethe of Social Welfare, the main casualty of Garrets reshuffle was, well Garret, as the internal  acrimony and in-fighting brought forward the governments interminable end by several months.

The implosion of Charles Haughey’s attempt in 1991 to appoint James McDaid to cabinet provides us with another example of the dangers and the factors that behind the reshuffle.

The centre-point of the fury might have been Mc Daid, who had to resign after been photographed beside a Provisional IRA figure outside a court following an extradition hearing.

But the real impetus that drove the attack was the accelerating political weakness of Mr Haughey who would finally be taken out by a scandal that had the weight of a feather.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of this week’s reshuffle drama is the fine misery that has settled over the Taoiseach’s visage.

You see ‘Dear Leader’ Enda, who likes neither change nor difficulty has resided for a sufficiently long period in Leinster House to have seen all of these debacles.

Indeed he has been around sufficiently long to be an almost accidental beneficiary of the Garret Fitzgerald debacle.

Some may hope that Mr Kenny’s experience in that regard means he will avoid the errors of his predecessors.

Given that re-shuffles can be bad for your political health the complaints about the length of time the tangled tango between Enda and Joan is taking is somewhat unfair.

Sadly, the expectation that precedent allied to Enda’s endemic Bourbon gene, means that the expectation that the government won’t learn from past errors is far more likely.

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