Fionnan Sheahan: Coalition's young guns face an uphill battle to get into Cabinet
Published 12/09/2012 | 17:00
Never joke about politicians' career prospects. Taoiseach Enda Kenny broke this golden rule with a wisecrack about an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, which sparked fevered speculation.
Speaking off the cuff at a dinner at the Fine Gael parliamentary party gathering, Mr Kenny invited TDs to take a hike up Croagh Patrick the following afternoon.
Pointing out that he had climbed 'the Reek' 120 times, he joked that those who climbed the pilgrims' mountain overlooking Westport and Clew Bay would be guaranteed promotion in a reshuffle.
Everybody laughed, but a few read a little too much into the reference to a reshuffle and the rumour mill got into gear.
Later in the day, he was forced to rule out even contemplating a round of ministerial musical chairs.
"It is not a priority of mine now. We have a very big job for the next six months, we have really serious and challenging things to do with the economy," he said at the end of his conference in the Knockranny House Hotel.
Given the challenges facing the Government in the next few months -- passing the children's referendum, preparing Budget 2013 and preparing for the EU Presidency -- it wouldn't be a great time for Mr Kenny to plan a reshuffle.
Although the removal of Dr James Reilly as Health Minister would serve as a help rather than a hindrance, Mr Kenny shows no sign of going down this route.
The prevailing wisdom is he will carry out a reshuffle at some point mid-way through the Coalition's five-year term -- possibly after the local and European elections, sometime around autumn 2014.
The European Commissioner is appointed at this time, often creating a Cabinet-level vacancy, but this might be a tad late for giving new ministers a chance to make an impact just 18 months before the projected spring 2016 General Election.
A comprehensive rejigging of portfolios would liven up the Government and be an opportunity to bring in fresh talent. But this theory was based upon the economy actually recovering substantially in the first half of the Coalition's tenure.
The rationale behind Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore (to an even greater extent) opting for experience in their original Cabinet selections of March 2011 was to have the required level-headedness to implement the cuts and tax measures necessary.
Ironically, the weak links on both sides have no previous Cabinet experience and yet preside over the largest spending departments -- Dr Reilly and Joan Burton.
The veteran ministers like Michael Noonan and Ruairi Quinn, have been there, done that, served through tough times before.
However, given the lack of an enormous improvement in our economic fortunes, there is an argument within government circles that the need for these old hands might not be finished with. Dad's Army might need a further tour of duty.
Setting new records for hiking up and down Croagh Patrick may not be enough for the young bucks to get their shot.