Lise Hand

Wednesday 23 July 2014

End of term for Ruairi as Fantasy Reshuffle persists

Published 03/07/2014|02:30

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IF gate fever had properly set in, the Education Minister may have been tempted to crowd-surf across the plinth (for certainly the posse of media awaiting him was sufficiently large) while bawling the lyrics to 'School's Out for Summer'.

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But despite the wide smile plastered meticulously across Ruairi Quinn's visage as he approached the press pack, he wasn't a happy camper.

His decision to resign from the front bench was clearly a pre-emptive strike – a case of strolling along the plank at his own pace, rather than being prodded along it within days by a new captain at the party's helm.

For it's a pretty horrid time for various members of the Cabinet who have spent weeks hearing their names invoked as part of the coalition crew being readied for a one-way trip into Davy Jones's Locker.

And for those who are eventually selected for the long drop, it's also a one-way ticket to instant anonymity, as all attention is immediately focused on their replacements.

And Ruairi was one of those unhappy names that kept on cropping up in what seems to be an endless game of Fantasy Reshuffle, which has been in full mutter in the corners of Leinster House since Eamon Gilmore announced his own exit stage left, following the local election Labour bloodbath.

So after 40 years of successfully surviving the shark-infested seas of Irish politics, he decided that he deserved more than a cursory goodbye-and-don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out from Joan/Alex next week.

Flanked by members of his staff and party whip Emmet Stagg and Dublin Bay South colleague Kevin Humphreys, Ruairi delivered his sayonara on the plinth in the full glare of an attentive press pack.

His decision to resign as minister (effective from whenever the new Cabinet is appointed) and also to retire at the next general election "has perhaps come a little sooner than I might have liked", he declared with a spot of restrained understatement.

For it was a mere eight weeks ago during the teachers' conferences that he was pitching hard to stay in education. "I am finding it absolutely stimulating, very, very interesting and I would like to continue and see through some of the projects I've initiated," he said in April.

And yesterday he insisted his motives for walking the plank of his own volition rather than waiting to be sacked next week were not born out of petulance.

Instead, he was motivated by a desire to make life easier for Joan/Alex, he explained.

"I want to ensure that the new leader of my party, whoever that may be, has the opportunity to create their own team on their own terms."

He put a brave face on the situation, but for a moment his composure slipped as he thanked his constituents in Dublin South East "for giving me the honour to represent them over the years", his voice wobbling briefly.

Immediately, his Labour colleagues scrambled to supply superlatives. "A giant," proclaimed Kevin Humphreys. "A titan," reckoned Louth TD Jed Nash, going one better. "His contribution has been immense," announced leader-in-waiting Joan Burton.

While Joan may not have been thrilled by the blizzard of publicity garnered by Ruairi's exit, (assuming she wins the leadership tomorrow) it should make the reshuffle conundrum a tad easier for her.

But it's unlikely that others being measured for a perambulation along the dreaded plank feel in any way obliged to give either Joan or Enda a similar dig out.

Pat Rabbitte, another minister in the frame, was in feisty form when asked by presenter Cathal Mac Coille on 'Morning Ireland' if he felt his time was up.

Perhaps it was time to "step aside" and "give youth a chance", Cathal suggested.

However, the Communications Minister decided to wind up the RTE broadcaster. "For a programme that's normally so politically correct, this trend towards ageism is very disturbing, and I'm very disappointed, as the minister responsible for RTE, that this ageism has crept in," he chided his tormentor, before adding mischievously: "You're around a fair while yourself, Cathal."

Pat was a bit giddy. But then it looks likely that school's out for him, too. The water around the ship of State could get mighty crowded before term's end.

Factfile: Ruairi Quinn

Age: 68.

From: Sandymount, D4.

Education: Blackrock College, UCD, Athens Centre of Ekistics.

Occupation: Architect.

Family: Married to Liz Allman, his second wife. The couple have one son and he has one son and one daughter from his previous marriage.

Career: Dublin City Council 1974-77 and 1991-93; Seanad Eireann 1976-1977; Dail Eireann 1977-1981; Seanad Eireann 1981-1982; Dail Eireann 1982 to present. Not contesting next general election.

Party: Labour Party deputy leader 1989-1997 and leader 1997-2002. Q Minister: Junior Minister for Environment 1982-1983, Minister for Labour 1983-1987, Minister for Public Service 1987-1987, Minister for Enterprise and Employment 1993-1994, Minister for Finance 1994-1997, Minister for Education 2011-2014.

Irish Independent

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