News John Downing

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Taoiseach's 'junior team' is all about buying stability

Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Reuters
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Reuters

Enda Kenny has not been in the business of politics for decades for nothing.

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He has gambled that, with an improving economy, he can once again increase the number of junior ministers in an effort to buy himself what political peace he can get in this strange new situation.

The 15 junior ministers he announced yesterday, combined with the three announced along with the senior ministers a fortnight ago, shows a fair mix of experience and youth, along with a reasonable regional balance.

The final total of four women out of the 18 appointed will not win gender equality prizes. But it may keep him out of big trouble on that one.

Among the older appointees, Pat Breen, first elected in 2002, and David Stanton, first elected in 1997, are overdue recognition.

The appointment of Eoghan Murphy, first elected in 2011, and Helen McEntee, in the Dáil since 2013, brings in some young blood.

The three Independents appointed as junior ministers are an attempt to provide additional glue. But huge questions still linger around the whole principle behind these appointments.

Too often a junior minister has been somebody who deputises for the senior minister at public occasions, at times making a poor job of reading a department-written script handed to him or her at the very last minute.

There have been exceptions to this rather dreary prospect.

In 1973-77 Labour's Frank Cluskey effectively ran social welfare policy as a junior at the joint Health and Social Welfare Department. In 1990 Mary Harney, as junior environment minister, banned 'smokey coal', ending Dublin's winter smog.

More recently, Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea and Michael Ring of Fine Gael have impressed.

Of the last crop, Junior Housing Minister Paudie Coffey, who lost his seat in February, impressed by helping broker a compromise between his senior minister, Alan Kelly, and the Finance Department. But these were exceptions to a lack-lustre rule.

Jack Lynch launched the idea of junior ministers, appointing 10 in 1977.

Lynch argued that an increasingly complex world put increasing demands on government.

A required geographic spread, the paying of political debts, patronage to reward and maintain loyalty, and the need to accommodate Coalition partners' demands always had a big say in this bloating of numbers.

Mr Kenny's latest "junior team" is no exception.

All parties grew the numbers. In 1980 Charlie Haughey increased junior ministers to 15; in 1995, the Rainbow government to 17; and in 2007 Bertie Ahern had 20. Recession forced Brian Cowen to cut them to 15 in 2009.

Now we are back with almost double the original number in 1977.

Irish Independent

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