Tuesday 23 August 2016

Her old job was child's play compared to the minefield that awaits

Published 09/05/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD speaking to media at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD speaking to media at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Newly appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Frances Fitzgerald, newly appointed Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured at Aras an Uachtarain where the ministers received their seals of office. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

SHE did her best to be discreet, in fairness, but Frances Fitzgerald practically pogoed into the Collinstown Community College in Clondalkin for the launch of a new initiative to tackle youth unemployment.

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The Minister for Children was sporting a smart suit (perfect for appearing on the telly all day), impeccable coiffure (ditto) and a mile-wide smile as she arrived along with the Taoiseach.

They were there for a quick photoshoot with champion boxers Bernard Dunne and Kenneth Egan, who is also running for Fine Gael in Clondalkin, after Frances persuaded him to throw his hat into the political ring.

But both she and the Taoiseach were boxing clever themselves – and neither would utter anything useful about the impending drama due to unfold in the Dail chamber just over an hour later, when Enda would conjure a new Justice Minister out of his Sorting Hat.

Inevitably in the 'King-is-dead-long-live-the-King' implacable nature of politics, Alan Shatter's seat was still warm when the speculation about his successor was in full swing.

Would it be Leo? Or Simon? Or the ever-loyal Frances? Or would he make Labour's day and give it to Pat Rabbitte who was clearly only dying for a go?

Nobody was quite sure – Enda has developed quite the habit of keeping his cards mighty close to his vest. Not even a Miraculous Medal could get any closer. But then yesterday morning Leo was spotted handing out election leaflets in his constituency, and Simon Coveney turned up in the chamber for the scheduled Agriculture Questions, and the field began to narrow.

But back in Clondalkin, Frances and Enda smiled and smiled and said nowt. Frances organised the photo, dragging Kenneth into the middle of the huddle, next to the Taoiseach, as they posed in front of a laptop.

"Are you checking the odds on Paddy Power, there, Minister?" she was asked. Frances kept on smiling.

But despite this valiant effort at discretion, it wasn't a huge surprise at all, when an hour later she trooped into the Dail chamber in the correct pecking order, just behind the Taoiseach and Michael Noonan.

Enda rose to his feet and managed to take any remaining crumb of drama out of the occasion by delivering his statement in a monotone. He brought Laois TD Charlie Flanagan out of the dog-house wherein he had resided for four years since the heave, and gave him Frances' old job in the Department of Children.

Charlie missed the actual announcement, strolling into the chamber halfway through Enda's speech. His expression was less one of delight than one of a man who has just run over his favourite dog. But then perhaps he was simply savouring the release from his exile on political Elba.

But the mood in the chamber wasn't jolly at all – in fact on the opposition benches it was decidedly sour.

Alan Shatter was truly a Marmite Minister, a chap who engendered admiration and dislike in equal measure.

Micheal Martin barely bothered to congratulate the new appointee – "I wish Minister Fitzgerald well," he stated, before going in with boots flying at the Government.

"It's not just a new minister we need, but an understanding that the arrogant and unaccountable way in which this Government as a whole has behaved is what led to this resignation. That is at the heart of the issue," he complained.

The bad vibrations were flying about like snuff at a wake. Joe Higgins discovered some of his old spark when it comes to framing a decent insult. The departed minister, he declared, had been "careering around the place like an out-of-control Formula One driver on speed, isolated in his racing bubble, crashing recklessly through barrier after barrier, but leaving many people crumpled on the road behind him."

This was followed by a fractious Leaders Questions which saw Mary Lou McDonald take serious umbrage over a jibe from Ruairi Quinn who professed himself amazed at her "motherly concern" for the wellbeing of the Labour Party.

"I know a sexist undertone when I hear it," she bristled.

Meanwhile, Frances and Charlie nipped up to the Aras to collect their seals of office, before Frances held her first press conference as Justice Minister in the foyer of Government Buildings.

Understandably she was clearly nervous, and made soothing noises about rebuilding relationships with the multifarious bruised egos and ruffled feathers left behind by Alan Shatter.

"I'm no stranger to hard work," she assured the large crowd of media clustered at the bottom of the steps.

Just as well. For her old job was child's play, compared to the minefield she has entered.

Irish Independent

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