Friday 21 October 2016

If Taoiseach found picking ministers hard, selecting 11 senators must be a nightmare

Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers

Taoiseach Enda Kenny may have thought selecting the ranks of junior ministers was tough, but it's nothing compared to the job he has picking just 11 Seanad nominees.

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Last week, he increased the number of ministers of State to 18 - jobs that were doled out among a pool of around 40 Fine Gael and Independent TDs who all felt they might get the nod.

This week, he has fewer goodies to go around and even more people who want them - including many TDs who lost their jobs in the election. As Mr Kenny himself told a recent Fine Gael meeting, he's had around 70 expressions of interest. That's going to leave a lot of people in his own party disappointed.

And that's before you consider that Independents may well feel like they should get a call, given the minority Government is reliant on the Independent Alliance and others to survive.

Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly has already indicated he would accept a nomination, as has former Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin (inset). Other former deputies such as Longford-Westmeath's James Bannon, Cork North West's Áine Collins and Meath West's Ray Butler may also get the call.

But there's no deal in place for Independents to be appointed to the Seanad according to a Government spokesman. That doesn't mean that there isn't a view in the Independent Alliance that it should happen.

Councillor Paul Gogarty contested the General Election in Dublin Mid-West under the Alliance banner but didn't win a seat.

He isn't seeking a Seanad nomination, but said of Government negotiations: "If the larger grouping, ie Fine Gael, are getting seats, then obviously the Independent Alliance should get one or two as well."

He said he also believes Mr Kenny should select people who aren't involved in politics who have expertise in other areas, like helping the disadvantaged or business.

Deirdre O'Donovan, another Independent Alliance councillor who also ran unsuccessfully, said she was "disappointed" that there was unlikely to be senators appointed from the group. She said she would be "surprised" to get a call from the Taoiseach but "it is something I would absolutely consider".

However, she said politics may ultimately sway Mr Kenny's decision-making. "His back is up against the wall. He needs all the support he can get." She said it was an example of how "they talk new politics but they don't deliver it".

Cold, hard political realities may well play a large role in Mr Kenny's decision. Fine Gael holds just 13 of the Seanad's 60 seats. Even if the Taoiseach assigned all 11 seats at his disposal to his party colleagues, he'll still be seven seats short of a Seanad majority.

Fine Gael would be the largest party - overtaking Fianna Fáil's 14 seats - but no matter how many party colleagues he appoints, they will have to work with others to get the Government's legislation through.

In 2011, most of those Mr Kenny appointed to the Seanad were independent people such as Katherine Zappone and Martin McAleese. But that was at a time that the government was much closer to a Seanad majority. The arithmetic this time around, as well as party pressures, will mean that most of the 11 will likely be of the Fine Gael variety.

Irish Independent

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