Saturday 22 November 2014

Fantasy Cabinet in full swing as reshuffle looms

Published 26/06/2014 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport

There's no escaping the R-word around Leinster House these days. It hangs over the restaurants, the bars, corridors and the two chambers like a French perfume blended from exotic spices and redolent with promise and intrigue.

Or, for others, like the unwelcome smell of boiled cabbage in a windowless room.

And it's not the R-word of recent doleful times (recession), but the other one, reshuffle. While the public at large quite sensibly pay little more than sporadic attention to this set-piece of political chess, the prospect of a looming reshuffle, sends the inhabitants of Leinster House and the various departments into a lather of speculative chatter.

Of course, all the bishops and rooks – and backbench pawns hoping for advancement – won't be going anywhere on the chessboard until the contest for the Labour leadership ends on Friday week, July 4, but that trifling reality doesn't stop Fantasy Cabinet from being in full swing.

Time and again, the R-word is cropping up any time. Yesterday dawned with Social Protection Minister and – if she wins the Labour leadership contest – deputy-reshuffler-in-chief Joan Burton being (metaphorically) chased around the 'Morning Ireland' studio by a dogged Cathal Mac Coille on if she's successful, whether she will merely tweak her team or change it altogether.

After a bit of dodging, Joan succumbed.

"Yes there will be changes, there will be more changes, but I have not allowed myself to become presumptuous in that regard," she declared, doubtless ruining the breakfast fries of several of her long-standing colleagues on the Labour front bench.

Of course, it's not just Labour ministers who are affected. One of the most frequently invoked Fine Gael names regarding ministers on the move is James Reilly, and the Health Minister was in the Dail chamber first thing yesterday morning for his scheduled question session.

Naturally, his opposition spokesman, Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher, couldn't resist sinking a small stiletto into the minister awaiting his fate.

"This will be your last health question ... " said Billy who then paused for a few beats ... "before the summer recess," he continued with a straight face.

Bold Billy. But James Reilly didn't rise to the dangled bait.

Meanwhile, on 'Newstalk', a potential replacement officer in Angola, aka Health, Leo Varadkar was also trying to avoid being cornered. Doing the Reshuffle Shuffle, he was eager to show willing for all jobs and none, telling Pat Kenny, "There are a number of different portfolios in Cabinet, I've a background in health; I've a background in local government as well. I've a big interest in other areas as well, such as economic or financial policies."

However, he too was careful to apply the usual caveats about picking a team being the prerogative of the Taoiseach. "I do feel very privileged to serve in Government – I know there are a lot of people who have passed through the Dail who are brighter and more capable than me, but never got an opportunity to serve," he explained.

And Enda certainly isn't saying anything to anyone right now about his ideas on the matter. Although of course this doesn't prevent the Opposition from chancing their arm anyway. During the order of business, Enda was dutifully answering a question by Micheal Martin on legislation relating to minimum pricing on alcohol and explaining it fell within the remit of junior health minister – and candidate for the Labour leadership – Alex White.

Micheal was in, quick as a light. "Will he still be in charge after the reshuffle?" he enquired.

The Taoiseach just grinned. "That's a question I can't answer," he replied, which was perfectly truthful, as he can't make a damn move until Labour get their act together next week.

"He [Alex] might be Tanaiste next week," Timmy Dooley helpfully pointed out, as a hubbub of suggestions and conspiracies flew across the chamber at the mute Taoiseach.

The Opposition are mere spectators at this game, but it doesn't stop some of their members from getting their retaliation in early. On Tuesday evening, during a private members' motion on the beef industry, Fianna Fail's Eamon O'Cuiv was unimpressed that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was as láthair from the debate.

"I welcome Minister Hayes, and wish him well in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle because it's quite clear the present minister has signed off, gone off into the sunset and is nowhere to be seen," he sniped.

Eamon was, of course, hopping the ball, and Simon hasn't been spotted near any sunset. But a heck of a load of nervous folk will be keeping a close eye on the horizon in the weeks to come.

Lise Hand

Irish Independent

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