News John Drennan

Thursday 28 August 2014

'Dear Leader' will probably bottle real chance to reboot the Cabinet

As the Taoiseach tries to be Simon Cowell searching for new talent, there is a dearth of fresh blood.

John Drennan

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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SWAP: Alan Shatter and Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Damien Eagers
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald could be in line for promotion in the cabinet reshuffle
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald could be in line for promotion in the cabinet reshuffle

One of the classic scenes in Yes Minister occurs when Sir Humphrey and Sir Arnold Robinson wonder if it might be possible to defuse a government crisis by making the hapless Jim Hacker the next prime minister. The laughter of the mandarins when they realise their stroke might actually work means they swiftly receive stern looks from the habitues of the posh restaurant where they are dining.

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As the clock ticks on Enda Kenny's much-anticipated reshuffle, the current political ideas suggest that Mr Kenny may soon be experiencing a similar class of moment. Sadly though, when it comes to selecting new personnel for his Cabinet Mr Kenny is more likely to be wailing than laughing.

We know when it comes to the reshuffle that all of Mr Kenny's instincts will be to embrace the quiet-as-a-church-mouse school of axe-wielding.

Intriguingly, Labour, which given its current desolate state, may be planning to be somewhat more expansive with the knife, is not a problem for it has too nice and polite a set of coalition children to come raiding in Fine Gael's back garden.

Should Eamon Gilmore want to rebuild his popularity by switching places with Brendan Howlin, Enda will have no problem with a decision which neatly dovetails into Fine Gael's version of parity of esteem, where Fine Gael looks after the tax cuts and its partners implement the spending cuts.

Even if Mr Gilmore has designs on the Jobs portfolio, were the lesser Bruton to be compensated by the Education brief, everyone will still be friends.

Instead the Taoiseach's troubles are, as has been the case for some time now, solely his own. The collapse of confidence in Alan Shatter and the growing aspersions being cast on Mr Kenny over the location of two of his hand-picked men in the intensive care unit of the Cabinet means the Taoiseach may have

to dine on a far larger slice of the humble pie of change than he might like.

But the increasing degradation of the Government's reputation and more critically, in 'Dear Leader' Enda's eyes, of the Taoiseach means Mr Kenny may need to use the sword to show he still is 'the boss-man'.

Sadly, should European delights claim 'Cute Old Phil' and the axing of 'Bottler' Reilly and the Cabinet's Dr Hyde of a Justice Minister becomes a political necessity, a new problem arises for Mr Kenny.

It is bad enough that he might be expected to lose three of his closest political allies in the manner that a man might leave an umbrella behind in the bookies, but, this will raise the terribly delicate question as to who Mr Kenny might actually be able to promote.

The Taoiseach will be relieved that the departure of Lucinda Creighton and Brian Hayes means he will not be plagued with calls to elevate the young, socially-acceptable-in-Sandymount wing of his party.

Talent is all well and good but it would really be asking too much of a Taoiseach that he be expected to stock his Cabinet with a quintet of ministers who were trying to take the political head off our ageing Taoiseach just a few years ago.

On the plus side, some problems can be resolved swiftly enough. Should Shatter or Reilly or both have to go, a publicly 'forgiving' Enda could promote Leo into either of those particular hornet's nests on the private principle of "putting manners on that fellow". Frances Fitzgerald has also, at this point, more than earned a shot at a senior ministry, such as Justice.

This, however, does not end our fundamental problem – for the Taoiseach will still have to promote people to fill the gaps.

Traditionally, when such necessities arise, the Taoiseach promotes from the young and hungry ranks of his junior ministerial apprentices.

The problem Mr Kenny now faces, alas, is who does he promote without inspiring a similar response from the public as the laughter of Sir Humphreys at the notion of Hacker for PM.

When it comes to the junior ranks, Michael Ring is able and willing but resides in the Taoiseach's constituency so that is out.

After that, the Taoiseach's future stars consist of Paul Kehoe, Dinny McGinley, John Perry, Ciaran Cannon and Tom Hayes.

All of these would be eminently capable of being the Minister for Arts and Culture, but, with the best will in the world, once beyond there, the water is a little deep for those short legs.

There is also Fergus O'Dowd, but he too bears the fleur de lis of having had bad thoughts back in that terrible time of 2011 so that too is out, while Pascal Donohoe, apart from being a little too new, suffers from the same taint of original sin.

Sadly, should our 'Dear Leader' go against all his instincts and promote some of his more experienced backbenchers, the scenario does not improve.

Oddly enough that is not because there is an absence of talent, for if anything in fact there is more talent there than there is within the Cabinet.

The problem though is that most of the talent is all from the wrong side of the Fine Gael civil war – for were Mr Kenny to cast bleak eyes at his back-up squad all he would see are figures such as Michael Creed, John Paul Phelan and John Deasy staring dourly back at him.

Party chairman Charlie Flanagan, Joe McHugh and Damien English will be staring back far more pleasantly, but they too are, alas, branded by the Pentecostal ashes of sedition.

The Taoiseach could of course look to the new and the untainted, but, when it comes to the Cappuccino Kids such as the Eoghan Murphys and Brendan Griffins, Mr Kenny instinctively suspects that they are Leo's children, as distinct from his own.

Mr Kenny would be signalling his own political mortality were he to end up promoting a generation that is psychologically severed from his inner world.

It is all well and good giving youth its fling but when you do this, eventually someone asks who is the old fellow dancing on the floor making a fool of himself.

Instead, if the Taoiseach is to look for smiling faces he is stuck with Jerry Buttimer, Simon Harris, James Bannon and Paudie Coffey.

When it comes to those among the backbenches who are in the 'circle of trust', the Taoiseach could promote Liam Twomey, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Aine Collins and in doing so promote wisely.

But, outside of noting that Mr Kenny is a Trapattoni who eschews the Real Madrid Galactico school of politics, none of the above has the, ahem, special talents needed to replace a Cute Old Phil.

The slight absence of an X-factor means few would blame our 'Dear Leader' were he to conduct the first cabinet reshuffle in the history of the State where no minister would be sacked.

In truth, it wouldn't be the worst reshuffle in the world, but, though Bertie engaged in a couple of similar ones, Mr Kenny is in the sort of political tar-pit where cautious in-action will only see him sink ever deeper into the mire.

The Fine Gael leader knows all too well that no government, with the possible exception of Albert Reynolds' following the St Valentine's massacre, has ever emerged in a better condition after a reshuffle.

This is not too surprising either, for too often the Irish reshuffle is about staving off calamity rather than finding new energy.

In the Taoiseach's case few would blame Enda if he has recently day-dreamed of doing an Albert and sacking half of his ministerial mutts.

Sadly, as Lucinda smiles coquettishly at Leo from the sidelines and Young Master Hayes and Cute Old Phil jump excitedly on the quay waiting to be shipped off to Europe, the alarming absence of talent means Enda does not have the Albert options unless he surrenders his fate to those who are not his internal friends.

It's enough to leave a Taoiseach, who has fulfilled his mandate to lead Ireland out of the Troika's bondage, thinking Europe in October might look very attractive.

Sunday Independent

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