Sunday 28 December 2014

Kenny's keeping one eye on the elections with latest line-up

Published 12/07/2014 | 02:30

Predident Michael D Higgins pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny before the president presented the new ministers with their seals of office in Aras an Uachtarain. Picture: Frank McGrath
Predident Michael D Higgins pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny before the president presented the new ministers with their seals of office in Aras an Uachtarain. Picture: Frank McGrath

"ENDA did no harm." That was the factual assessment of one Fine Gael backbencher soon after this long-awaited reshuffle was announced.

It was a conservative operation from the risk-averse Taoiseach and party leader who has seen some predecessors over-reach themselves and do reshuffle harm during his almost 39 years at Leinster House.

But as one doctor steps out, and another doctor steps in to the Health Department, Leo Varadkar's appointment is a gamble. Health foul-ups were high among the reasons for Fine Gael's unexpectedly severe kicking in the local elections on May 23 last.

Dr Reilly was retained in Cabinet for reasons of party organisation and leader loyalty. But his health stewardship compounded the Government's health difficulties.

Leo Varadkar carries the hopes that these health foul-ups will stop. There is the additional hope that his considerable political intelligence can bring sense to an issue which will remain potentially toxic right up to the next General Election.

It is the man's big test – and if he can hack it – bigger things will certainly beckon. But right now he carries the party members' hopes and fears for an uncertain future.

The wildcard move of first-time TD Heather Humphreys from the backbenches to be Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister was daring by Kenny standards and driven by the scarcity of women ministers. It also has potential to help 1916 centenary celebrations, as she is a Presbyterian from a border constituency.

A few problem areas were deftly managed. Next to nothing was given Labour on their claims to the Jobs and Enterprise portfolio.

So Enda Kenny and Fine Gael can continue to associate themselves with job creation, which hopefully for everyone's sake will continue to flourish.

Phil Hogan heads to Europe with hopes of an influential post. Paschal Donohoe comes to Cabinet with responsibilities including transport which could help the party cause in Dublin. The rock-solid Charlie Flanagan moves to Foreign Affairs, where he will flourish.

The Taoiseach faces accusations of gutlessness in not sacking James Reilly or entirely banishing Jimmy Deenihan. But he clearly has his personal and party reasons for these decisions.

Ultimately, it is quite likely that this reshuffle will have a small impact on the general populace. But the performance of this new line-up on the crucial issues of incomes and taxation over the coming 20 months will have a huge impact.

Irish Independent

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