Changes in roles but no real shocks in shake-up
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has chopped and changed the functions of four key government departments as part of his Cabinet reshuffle.
But apart from these changes, what is most noticeable is the survival of two departments recommended for abolition by An Bord Snip Nua -- Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism.
The latter has survived virtually untouched, although its name has been changed to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
There is also no sign of the promised Department of Economic Planning and Enterprise, which was supposed to drive job creation efforts and the reform of the public sector.
That is being seen as a victory for the Department of Finance, which did not want its powers in the economic sphere threatened. And the Department of the Taoiseach has firmly retained control of the public sector reform -- which has proceeded at a snail's pace despite Mr Cowen's promise to make it a central theme of his administration.
Mr Cowen will remain in charge of the process, but Junior Minister for Labour Affairs Dara Calleary will be attached to both his department and the Department of Finance with the goal of speeding up public sector reform. There will also be a new Public Service Board, which Mr Cowen said will have members from the private sector.
Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton has described the new arrangements for public service reform as a "three- humped camel" involving three departments.
"I hope that the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, acting as the mahout (driver) for this camel, can deliver some change, but I have little confidence in this because the Taoiseach stated two years ago that public service reform was his priority," he said.
It appears that the much maligned FAS state training agency is also being split between three departments -- with its employment offices going to Social Protection, its training activities going to Education and Skills and the remainder staying with Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton provoked laughter in the Dail yesterday when she said that after "Fiche Blian ag FAS" (a reference to the classic Irish novel "Twenty Years A-Growing"), there was now a little bit of FAS for everyone.
And that could either re-invigorate the agency or it could lead to massive confusion. In his Dail speech, Mr Cowen admitted there would be costs to the changes.