Lise Hand

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Shock appointments and faces like thunder at the launch of Team Jenda

Lise Hand

Published 12/07/2014|02:30

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Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte
Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte

It was around 9.30am, and Leo was heading to the restaurant for a feed. He was wearing his lovely blue suit again. He had been wearing it the two previous days, also. It was clearly his Reshuffle rig-out.

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"I'm running out of clean shirts to wear with it," he confided. He intended to tuck into a fry. "The Last Supper," he joked to a deputy.

Aha. Surely that meant that the Transport Minister was being transported to Health, the department of clean living, where such artery-clogging fare as a platter of rashers, sausages and eggs is strictly verboten?

The rustling sound echoing along the corridors was that of straws being clutched by politicians and press who were only desperate for news.

Everyone kept checking their phones.

Labour's Ged Nash was finishing off his fry, when his phone rang. He left the table, took the call and returned to polish off his white pudding, cool as a breeze.

The Louth TD told nobody that he had just got 'The Call'. "I was dancing inside," he later joked.

Time ticked on. High Noon – the hour scheduled for the reshuffle – came and went. There were rumours of an unmerciful row over a proposed shuffle.

"Pat Rabbitte is setting fire to his office," quipped one irreverent observer. And the Communications Minister was making no bones about his reluctance to depart – he was spotted in the vicinity of Government Buildings with "a face like thunder".

He later told RTE that his sacking had unfolded in a Beckett-like "twenty-second exchange" with his party leader, Joan Burton.

Finally, at 1.40pm, the Taoiseach and Tanaiste led in 'Team Jenda'. By this stage, most of the names were already confirmed; it was Leo for Health after all, to be replaced in Transport by Paschal Donohoe, and Jan O'Sullivan was taking over from Ruairi Quinn in Education.

Gobsmacked

But the other woman who was selected to double the number of frontbench females from two to four was a total surprise. Fine Gael's Heather Humphreys was clearly utterly gobsmacked to find herself in the line-up as the new Arts Minister, and both she and Ged Nash, the new super-junior minister for Jobs, were cheered to the rafters as they walked down the steps of the chamber.

And the first to seek her out to shake her hand was gallant Jimmy Deenihan, the man she had just deposed. He was sitting in among the backbenchers, as were Ruairi Quinn and Eamon Gilmore.

Up in the back row, Phil Hogan was wedged into a seat – it'll be October before he can swap it for a plush Brussels berth as the new EU Commissioner.

But Pat Rabbitte declined to join them, and sat on a chair at the top of the chamber, looking most unhappy. Nor did he stick around for the walk-through vote on the new nominations.

Enda and Joan made speeches about their new team, and then it was the opposition's turn.

However the Taoiseach launched an unscripted and spirited rebuttal of their objections. "I have listened to many speeches in the House over the years on the appointments of governments and reshuffles of various kinds and this has been, from an opposition perspective, the worst performance I have ever heard," he declared, adding that Micheal Martin's critique was "a classic speech that one would hear from the back of a trailer down in Newport on a wet Saturday morning when nobody wants to listen".

Then all of the reshuffled family hopped on to a bus to the Park to collect their seals of office. Heather couldn't stop staring into the small square box after she had been handed it by the President. "I was sitting at my desk at noon when I got the call. I'm still a bit shocked, to be honest," she said. And despite being handed the unholy mess of Health, Leo was still smiling when he gave his first press conference on the plinth at 6pm.

"I'm not sure if I'll be able to turn a poisoned chalice into sweet wine, but I'm going to do all I can to improve our health services," he declared breezily.

If he manages that, Leo's next job title will surely be the Harry Potteresque Head of the Ministry of Magic.

Irish Independent

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