Saturday 22 November 2014

Picking junior team much trickier fixture for the two captains

Published 16/07/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, T.D., and Joan Burton,
Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD with Tanaiste Joan Burton. Photo: Damien Eagers
Ministers of State Kevin Humphreys (left) and Simon Harris see the funnier side

AS the Taoiseach announced the new junior minister line-up, there were more long faces around the Dail chamber than one would see hanging over half-doors in the yard of Coolmore Stud.

Reshuffles are peculiar yokes. While everyone's attention was understandably focused on the senior match last week when the Cabinet saw various comings and goings, it's the minor match – the reshuffle of the team of junior ministers – which has the potential of being a far trickier fixture for the two captains.

For unlike the main event, when only the most imaginative among the humble backbenchers would dare to dream of advancement, the sequel is a definite case of Dickensian levels of Great Expectations.

A considerable gaggle of Fine Gael and Labour deputies were keeping vigil over their phones yesterday morning – even though there were probably close to three hopefuls for every one of the 12 junior jobs up for grabs.

Alas for Enda the Omnipotent, no matter how many times he mutters abracadabra over a loaf and a fish, it still remained a loaf and a fish. He mightn't be the sharpest at the sums, but he still knows that around 20-odd wannabes into the seven potential Fine Gael vacancies (with two already secured by Jimmy Deenihan and Paul Kehoe) equals a cadre of unhappy campers. And ditto for his vice-captain, Joan, who had five vacancies at her disposal after backbencher Ged Nash's elevation to super junior.

"What are you hearing?" asked a stream of hopefuls as they arrived into Leinster House yesterday morning, many of them looking suspiciously well-groomed.

The running order was carefully planned: first, the execution of the axed unfortunates, followed by official approval of the new nominees at the midday cabinet meeting, before the lucky Doughty Dozen received The Call and then assembled for a happy family snap on the steps of Government Buildings.

Of course, no such orderly sequence occurred. The names of the Fallen were circulating in no time, the biggest shock being Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd who, in fairness, didn't vamoose in a huff but stayed around chatting to all and sundry.

A big clear-out was expected – a couple of juniors were deemed safe: Tom Hayes in Agriculture was under no threat and not even the Taoiseach had the temerity to try and move Sports and Tourism junior Michael Ring, aka Ticketmaster, from his fun portfolio. In Labour, Kathleen Lynch and Sean Sherlock were deemed to be beyond the reach of the blade.

And Joan Burton showed her tender side, by ringing some (but not all) of the Labour hopefuls early in the day to dash their expectations rather than keep them dangling. John Lyons got a call, as did Arthur Spring, Joanna Tuffy and Michael McCarthy.

The names of the chosen began to trickle out: Joan bestowed her blessings on two Dubs, Aodhan O'Riordain and Kevin Humphreys, along with Carlow TD Ann Phelan.

And then Fine Gael's new squad were revealed, and it was all terribly boy-band: Simon, Dara, Damien, Joe and Paudie.

Heads were scratched. Where were the women? Not to denigrate the lads who got the nod, but out of nine vacancies, could Enda not have found one female among his deputies who is worthy of promotion? He obviously took in criteria such as geography and age and loyalty, but deemed gender to be unimportant when assembling a balanced team of juniors.

Labour Women released a chilly statement, declaring it sent out a "regretful message". And one Fine Gael TD was even more unforgiving. "Same old boy's club bull," she snorted.

Or perhaps the Taoiseach just thinks that the glass ceiling is grand where it is? Sure hasn't it got enough cracks, what with the number of Cabinet women doubled to four, and sure isn't there a woman Attorney General, and another running the Gardai, (for the moment anyway)? And they want juniors as well? Are they ever happy at all?

Along the corridors, the lucky lads were being congratulated. Wicklow's Simon Harris, now in charge of the OPW, was instantly buttonholed by a succession of TDs. "I need to talk to you about flooding," they insisted, half-jokingly.

The new team lined up with Enda and Joan on the steps of Government Buildings for the family photograph. Except one was missing – Michael Ring was in the RDS launching next month's horse show and somebody forgot to tell him.

And so the ever-tardy Taoiseach found himself in the unusual position of waiting for someone else to show up, as he and the rest of his team arranged themselves for the photo.

The lack of women was even starker. Excluding the Tanaiste, there were two females in the group, Labour's Kathleen Lynch and Ann Phelan.

The minutes ticked on, and still no sign of Michael Ring.

Enda was getting impatient. "Mickey's missing," he joked. Au contraire, Taoiseach. Au contraire.

Irish Independent

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