Thursday 1 September 2016

Who's in, who's out and who's gonna be kicked about? No white smoke on formation of Team Jenda

Published 08/07/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings

All that was missing from Leinster House on Day One of Reshuffle Week was the open carcass of some unfortunate beast laid out on the floor of the Dail bar, surrounded by a gaggle of soothsayers earnestly inspecting the entrails for portents of change.

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"What've you heard?" was the curious or plaintive entreaty rising from every corner of the building as denizens roamed about like nervous buffalo on the prairie in search of nuggets or snippets of news, or at the very least, a credible rumour.

Inevitably, Enda was ambushed by media en route into Government Buildings yesterday morning for his first sit-down with his newly nominated Tanaiste for an opening game of Cabinet Snakes and Ladders. "We have business to conduct on behalf of the country," he declared by way of saying nothing at all.

Joan Burton, on the other hand, was anticipating a "full and a frank discussion" with the Taoiseach. Now, while that's usually political shorthand for "skin and hair flying", the new double-act of Joan and Enda will be anxious to present a harmonious front when it comes to assembling their rejigged Team Jenda.

But amid the whirlwind of speculation and conjecture, there are two certainties. Firstly, that a reshuffle – particularly if it's more than just a timid tweaking – can be hellishly tricky. And Michael Noonan, the wise oracle of Cabinet, pronounced from Brussels that he expected the reshuffle to be "reasonably significant" due to the number of vacancies knocking about.

"Oooh," inhaled a whole load of hopeful backbenchers upon hearing this prognostication, and scampered away to buy a new tie/shirt/power suit.

But the second certainty is that no one – not even the influential Finance Minister and definitely not Enda's metaphorical Paddy – knows the story. Only Jenda, who were closeted away together for most of the day, know the full sceal, and while the Taoiseach is famous for his ability to keep schtum, the Tanaiste needs to prove to Fine Gael that she, too, can be discreet when required.

Of course while Reshuffle Week is tremendous sport for neutral political nerds, it's total torture for any of the unfortunate divils who find themselves relentlessly name-checked on the airwaves as racing certainties to take a long walk down a short plank.

Many of the senior ministers simply made themselves scarce yesterday, but others had little choice but to sally forth from their bunkers and fulfil public or official commitments.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, who has been linked with a move to the fun, unpressured portfolio of Health, was out and about at an IDA event. He made it crystal clear that he really, really wants to stay put, and that he's "very committed" to his task of job creation.

But Richard knows that he's at the mercy of Enda's calculations.

And the trouble for the minister is that Jobs is now a plum gig and many greedy eyes are upon it. For as the economy hopefully continues to improve and the dole numbers dwindle, it's going to be the Ministry for Good News best suited to someone who can do jazz hands and give it a bit of the old showbiz razzle-dazzle.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan, tipped to be brushing up on his French for a move to Brussels as EU Commissioner, had scheduled a photoshoot in his department for yesterday afternoon. But Phil was maintaining as low a profile as his height would allow.

The journalists who showed up at the event hoping for a quick word on his prospects were sent packing. "Photographers only," insisted one of his staff.

In contrast, Health Minister James Reilly held no less than two press conferences in Government Buildings within a few hours of each other – either the sign of a man tying up loose ends before heading for political pastures new, or a worker-bee signaling, "I'm busy, Enda, so buzz off and leave me at it".

James has made no bones in the past about his desire to stay in Health.

And he didn't quite deny reports that he had spent the weekend on the phone to his parliamentary colleagues, drumming up support for this notion. "I would regularly be talking to backbenchers and calling backbenchers," he dodged. "It's my duty as deputy leader to do that and indeed as a minister," he added earnestly. Indeed.

In the meantime, Jenda remained in conclave, and the prolonged pow-wow stretched on into early evening with no white smoke billowing through the window of the Taoiseach's department.

So the vigil continues. The Limerick Oracle, Michael Noonan, reckoned it could be Wednesday before all is revealed.

Last weekend, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams was recorded warbling his way through a verse of the Garth Brooks' number, 'If Tomorrow Never Comes' – for some TDs it's arriving too soon, but for others it can't come soon enough.

Lise Hand

Irish Independent

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