Backbenchers turn the screw with call for 'radical reshuffle'
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is under pressure from Fianna Fail backbenchers to carry out a "radical reshuffle" of the Cabinet in the wake of the resignation of former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea.
Most believe he will just fill the current vacancy and wait until Easter at the earliest before announcing any major reshuffle.
But there is growing pressure on Mr Cowen from his own backbenchers to change the make up of the Cabinet he has remained loyal to since taking charge in May 2008.
One Fianna Fail backbencher said last night that a radical reshuffle was needed.
"There are three or four in the Cabinet that are not contributing anything outside of their portfolio.
"We need people who will contribute to public debate on economic issues," one Fianna Fail backbencher said last night.
Another focused in particular on Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan, who has come under fire for her handling of the Ryanair proposal for 300 aircraft maintenance jobs at Dublin Airport. "The Tanaiste needs to be changed for her own sake. She needs to be moved to a less demanding portfolio," he said.
A Government source has predicted that any reshuffle may be held back until the end of next month.
Mr Cowen has so far kept his cards close to his chest and has taken temporary responsibility for Mr O'Dea's former role.
But many of the 11 backbenchers who spoke privately to the Irish Independent yesterday want him to resist the temptation not to make any radical changes.
"He [Mr Cowen] always said there would be some form of reshuffle. We are 20 months into the term now and it would be tradition that a revamp would happen around this time," said one. It has also emerged that the Green Party is unlikely to be demanding a second junior ministerial position in any reshuffle.
A party source said there is no longer the capacity to accommodate this request following the reduction in junior ministerial numbers last year -- and that it has other bigger priorities.
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said it was a matter for Green Party leader John Gormley to pursue. The contenders to replace Mr O'Dea include his constituency colleague in Limerick East, Junior Minister Peter Power.
But some Fianna Fail TDs doubt he will get the job because it could increase the sense of hurt felt by Mr O'Dea.
Another Fianna Fail TD said Junior Minister for Agriculture Tony Killeen was a more likely candidate. "I wouldn't think Peter Power would be in the running. Tony has been a TD for a longer time and he has more experience. There are enough difficulties for Willie without Peter being promoted," he said.
Last night, Mr Killeen told RTE's 'Week in Politics' that he believed there were 20 people capable of filling the role of Defence Minister.
"Obviously if the Taoiseach asked me I'd be very happy to do it... it would be a nice honour of course, but it is the Taoiseach's prerogative to decide," he said.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he wanted to see the Government out of office rather than a cabinet reshuffle.
"My wish would be that they would summon up the courage to stand before the people and be judged by them, as they will be sooner or later," Mr Kenny said.