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Friday 22 September 2017

Out in the cold:  The six powerless junior ministers

Eoghan Murphy, Minister of State for Financial Services, eGovernment and Public Procurement. Pic:Naoise Culhane
Eoghan Murphy, Minister of State for Financial Services, eGovernment and Public Procurement. Pic:Naoise Culhane
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Six of the 18 junior ministers appointed last May have not been delegated specific powers by their senior colleagues.

Just two Cabinet members involved their ministers of state directly in the pre-Budget negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure, the Irish Independent can reveal.

It comes despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny saying he needed to increase the number of positions to place "stronger emphasis on important policy areas".

Mr Kenny was criticised after his re-election as Taoiseach for creating three new junior ministries, including a record 15 from Fine Gael.

Opponents claimed it was an attempt by Mr Kenny to shore up support for his own political leadership.

Among the senior ministers not to give any direct power to the junior counterparts are Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Shane Ross, Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe.

Ministers of state get a payment of €34,381 on top of their normal TD salary of €87,258, as well as an entitlement to hire a driver.

Fianna Fáil's public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary has criticised the situation, saying it calls into question Mr Kenny's logic for extra appointments.

"The reality nearly six months later is that most junior ministers were sidelined during the budgetary process and those without defined responsibilities within their department are effectively serving at the pleasure of their senior ministers," he said.

"If the Taoiseach is serious about the role of a junior minister - as opposed to using them as tools of political patronage - it's time he ensured that every minister has a defined authority within their department."

Patrick O’Donovan Minister of State for Tourism and Sport. Photo: Tom Burke
Patrick O’Donovan Minister of State for Tourism and Sport. Photo: Tom Burke

Rural Development Minister Heather Humphreys brought her two juniors, Michael Ring and Sean Kyne, to meet Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe on September 27 to discuss their budget allocations.

Mr Kyne also accompanied Communications Minister Denis Naughten to his main meeting with Mr Donohoe ahead of the Budget.

However, no other junior minster was directly involved in the talks, although most ministers said they were involved at a departmental level.

Despite taking office on May 6, Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Agriculture Minsiter Michael Creed are still in the process of giving statutory powers to the junior ministers attached to their offices.

Damien English, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal. Photo: Tom Burke
Damien English, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal. Photo: Tom Burke

Mr Coveney was assigned Meath West TD Damien English as minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal and Dublin South Central TD Catherine Byrne as minister with communities.

"The issue of a formal delegation of functions is under consideration. In the meantime, both ministers of state engage fully with myself and senior management of the department in relation to relevant business matters," Mr Coveney said.

Similarly, Mr Creed said that while no powers have yet been given to Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle, he has assumed responsibility for forestry, horticulture, food safety and the greyhound industry.

"It is expected that a memo for government will be brought before Cabinet shortly requesting execution of a draft order delegating these functions to Mr Doyle," said Mr Creed.

Others such as Transport Minister Shane Ross have indicated they do not intend to pass powers down the line.

Andrew Doyle Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture. Photo: Tom Burke
Andrew Doyle Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture. Photo: Tom Burke

He said Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan had been given "general responsibility" for sports and tourism.

Mr Ross also said his Fine Gael counterpart had agreed to support him "in relation to Oireachtas business, international commitments, attendant at public events and other matters as may be required by Mr Ross".

Mr O'Donovan was central to the Government response to the Rio ticketing scandal and the setting up of an inquiry led by Mr Justice Carroll Moran.

Sean Canney, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief. Photo: Tom Burke
Sean Canney, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief. Photo: Tom Burke

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe share Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy - but neither has given him any legislative authority.

Instead, he has been assigned "certain functions and responsibilities". These include the promotion of Ireland's financial services industry and a review of motor insurance.

Joe McHugh, Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development Aid. Photo: Tom Burke
Joe McHugh, Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development Aid. Photo: Tom Burke

Irish Independent

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