Tuesday 20 March 2018

Coalition vows to make work pay

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government has vowed to make work pay as a new cabinet line-up was announced.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny outlined a series of dramatic changes to the top ministerial ranks for the final 18 months of the partnership with the big winners including Leo Varadkar as the new Health Minister.

"The objective of Government should always be to create the conditions and supports to allow families to thrive, prosper and reach their full potential," he said.

"A plan to make work pay will be a big part of our priorities for the remainder of this Government.

"Fairness and job creation will go hand in hand. Everyone must have the opportunity to work and live their lives at home."

The raft of changes in the top ranks of Fine Gael and Labour took place after tough talking between Mr Kenny and the new Labour leader, Tanaiste and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton over the last week.

In one of the most high profile promotions Mr Varadkar, a qualified doctor, moves from transport, tourism and sport, to succeed Dr James Reilly in the Department of Health.

The former health minister, a close ally of the Taoiseach, moves to a new role in the junior ranks but combining the important divisions of children and public health.

Charlie Flanagan, also a Kenny ally, has been promoted to Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Simon Coveney, widely seen as a rising star in the Fine Gael ranks alongside Mr Varadkar, has been given the new responsibility of defence alongside his role as Agriculture Minister.

Big changes also took place in the Labour ranks.

Ms Burton said the cabinet reshuffle and a policy document to be published on the future work of the Government will deliver social recovery to accompany the economic revival for the many and not the few.

Key policies she pointed to included a commission on the minimum wage and low pay issues, collective bargaining rights for workers, tax reforms for low and middle-income earners, tripling the number of social houses built to 25,000 a year by 2020.

"The social recovery starts with jobs, because secure work is the single best protection against poverty," the Tanaiste said.

"This vital window of opportunity must not be lost, because the people of this country suffered hugely as a result of a crisis they did not cause, endured while this Government implemented the necessary policies to end it, and now must feel the benefits of the recovery in their lives.

"That is our task, and we will work with head and heart to deliver."

Jan O'Sullivan, formerly a junior minister, moves to head the Department of Education while t he party's recently-appointed deputy leader Alan Kelly is also promoted, taking up the role of Environment Minister.

Mr Kelly replaces Fine Gael's Phil Hogan, who stands down and is being put forward for a European Commissioner role.

The switch also means Labour takes control of housing policy, which had been a key plank of Ms Burton's ambitions after winning the party leadership.

The reshuffle sees the Labour old guard weeded out of cabinet.

Ruairi Quinn had already confirmed his departure from the ministerial ranks on the back of Eamon Gilmore's resignation as party leader and Tanaiste over the party's decimation at the polls.

Veteran former leader Pat Rabbitte has been demoted from his role at the helm of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the backbenches.

Alex White, who put up an ultimately weak challenge to Ms Burton for the Labour leadership, takes that role.

A new "super junior" ministerial position has also been created with Ged Nash, a Labour TD from Louth, entering the ministerial ranks.

The newcomer takes on responsibility for business and employment which includes oversight of the low pay commission.

Super juniors can be appointed by the Taoiseach for any role in government and have a seat at the cabinet table but no voting powers on key decisions.

Other key changes include Paschal Donohoe's promotion as Minister for Transport and newcomer to the Dail in the 2011 election, TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys rising quickly through the ranks to head up the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht.

Her predecessor Jimmy Deenihan is demoted but given a new junior role spanning the Department of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs with responsibility for issues related to the Irish diaspora.

Ms Humphreys is the fourth woman at the cabinet table.

Following the announcement all the ministers join the Taoiseach and Tanaiste for a reception with President Michael D Higgins in Aras an Uachtarain.

The ministers will be given a Seal of Office from the President before the new cabinet holds its first meeting in the State dining room.

As part of the ceremonial events, the President and Taoiseach will sign the Warrant of Appointment in the reception room in the Aras confirming the new positions.

Later, there will be the formality of the Dail approving the new cabinet.

Opposition Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said although faces had changed at the Cabinet, there was no difference in direction.

"All the evidence is that very little will change because of this reshuffle," he said.

"It's a bit like cosmetic surgery, except nothing major has changed. The public want a new direction, not just new faces."

Mr Martin said the coalition was unpopular not because of having to make tough decisions, but because so many of the decisions have been unfair.

"All we have been offered is a few soundbites intended to resurrect the political and electoral fortunes of Fine Gael and Labour but which reveal the decision to double-down on the policies of the last three and a half years," he added.

"It is changing some of the faces, but the core strategy, the core unfairness, the core reality of spin and broken promises, remains unchanged."

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein leader, said the coalition had not delivered on the democratic revolution promised after the 2011 election.

"For struggling families a cabinet reshuffle, and let's be clear about this, has no consequence whatsoever unless it brings change to their daily lives," Mr Adams told the Taoiseach.

Mr Adams also hit out at the Government's lack of focus on the peace process and claimed it had allowed anti-agreement elements in Northern Ireland to gain influence.

Press Association

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