Shannon celebrates as straight-talker returns
TONY Killeen is the first minister from Co Clare for almost two decades.
The county's last minister, Brendan Daly, also served as defence minister for a spell -- but was one of the eight ministers sacked from the cabinet in 1992 in Taoiseach Albert Reynolds's famous bloodbath.
He had been widely tipped for promotion after the resignation of Willie O'Dea, because Mr Cowen could not afford to leave the entire mid-west region without a minister.
So Limerick's loss is Clare's gain -- but both counties will be expecting Mr Killeen to be a vigorous advocate for Shannon airport at the cabinet table.
He set up the Shannon Status Committee to boost the airport in the late 1980s and voted against the government in 1993 in protest at the removal of the obligatory 'Shannon stopover' for transatlantic aircraft.
Mr Killeen has had a strong electoral record since he was first elected to Clare County Council in 1985, alongside fellow Fianna Fail councillor Michael Hillery.
Mr Hillery said last night that Mr Killeen was always "honest and straight and will tell you the story as it is".
"He's very forthright -- he'll say 'this can be done or can't be done'. We're extremely happy for him, it's a great achievement," he said.
Mr Killeen made the breakthrough to the junior ministerial ranks in 2004, when he was given Labour Affairs.
But he suffered a serious political setback in 2007 after his constituency office sent two letters to then justice minister Michael McDowell urging that a convicted child rapist be freed.
The controversy did not help his attempts to secure three seats for his party in Clare in the 2007 General Election -- which would have guaranteed him a cabinet seat.
But Mr Killeen set about rebuilding his career through diligent work as a junior minister at the Environment Department and then at Fisheries and Forestry. He was publicly praised for talking last year about his battle against bowel cancer -- and urging other sufferers to seek treatment.