'Tough nut' O'Keeffe is promoted to top of the class
Published 24/03/2010 | 05:00
THE no-nonsense attitude, the spurning of unions and the unfailing willingness to battle for the Government -- it all made Batt O'Keeffe the best boy in the cabinet class.
Having only won promotion to the cabinet table in the summer of 2008, his rise through the ranks, passing out long-serving ministers and Fianna Fail loyalists, is all the more extraordinary.
He now leads the hugely important job-creating department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and will be responsible for securing jobs for 400,000 unemployed people.
He will also be Ireland's ambassador abroad in terms of attracting foreign direct investment, following claims that his predecessor, Mary Coughlan, brought a "cringe factor" to such trade missions.
The former Education Minister will now oversee a beefed-up department which is taking over responsibility for funding the programme for research in third level institutions -- an area he already has much experience in.
However, he has managed to shed the hugely troublesome employment agency FAS which now goes to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
When he first took over as Minister for Education, the boisterous and proactive teachers' unions branded him 'Mr Anonymous' and 'Cowen's Yes Man'. But it wasn't long before he put his stamp on the education portfolio by facing down the unions, putting third-level fees back on the agenda, probing grade inflation, cutting paid sick leave for teachers and telling university presidents to take a pay cut.
Such stances have led Fianna Fail backbenchers to describe him as a minister who will "always hold his nerve", who is a "tough nut for tough times" and who is a "man of mettle".
While teachers have congratulated him on tackling issues such as massively cutting state expenditure on renting prefabs, they've also been quick to condemn him on issues such as using two choppers and a state car to travel from teacher conference to teacher conference.
He suffered his one and probably only climbdown when the Greens negotiated in the Programme for Government that third-level fees would not return.
He now moves on to dealing with Fine Gael's rottweiler in chief Leo Varadkar who has had to contend with Mary Coughlan for the last two years.