Tuesday 16 January 2018

Cowen cop-out sparks anger among FF backbenchers

Fiach Kelly,Aine Kerr and Fionnan Sheahan

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen's conservative ministerial reshuffle sparked a backlash on the Fianna Fail backbenches last night, with some TDs describing it as a "disaster".

Mr Cowen cautiously opted for minimal changes to his ministerial line-up as he moved around some of the responsibilities of his Cabinet.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was finally moved out of the Enterprise, Trade and Employment portfolio, where she has consistently performed poorly. But her shock move to Education was greeted with dismay, with one backbencher saying the decision was "absolutely barmy".

Pat Carey and Tony Killeen were promoted to the Cabinet, as Community Affairs and Defence ministers respectively, with John Curran becoming Government Chief Whip.

But there was widespread despair among backbenchers at what they described as "minimalist" changes to the Government.

Numerous TDs also highlighted the fact that there were now six teachers at the Cabinet table and said this was ridiculous in a government supposedly focussed on job creation and employment.

"The rest are lawyers and bureaucrats," one long-serving Fianna Fail TD said.

The Green Party got its demand for a second junior minister with Mary White and Ciaran Cuffe being promoted from the backbenches to cover areas of specific interest to their core supporters -- equality and transport planning.

There was mixed reaction in Fianna Fail to the Greens securing two junior ministries, with some TDs saying they had been given too much and others saying it didn't really matter.

Fianna Fail TD Sean Connick was the only party TD to get the nod from the backbenches to him becoming junior minister for the marine portfolio.

But the FF TDs felt more people should have been promoted from the backbenches in a major shake-up of the senior and junior ministerial ranks. One said two senior ministers said to him that the reshuffle was "a missed opportunity".

While several other disgruntled backbenchers were prepared to privately criticise the reshuffle, it is not clear if any will openly air their grievances.

Mr Cowen decided just to reconfigure the existing frontbench of ministers and rejig a number of portfolios.

Batt O'Keeffe was the big winner as he was promoted from Education Minister to the crucial portfolio of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.

Another surprise promotion was Eamon O Cuiv, moving from the relatively niche responsibility of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to the reconfigured social welfare department, now called Social Protection.

In an unexpected demotion, Mary Hanafin was moved to Tourism, Culture and Sport -- a department regarded as a minor role.

Independent TD Mary Harney was retained as Health Minister, despite the demise of the PDs since the last round of ministerial appointments and being embroiled in the Tallaght Hospital X-ray controversy.

Contenders

Fianna Fail's future leadership contenders, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey all stayed put, as did Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith.

But Fianna Fail backbenchers last night said night Mr Cowen's reshuffle was a "total disaster" adding it "couldn't have been worse".

Most TDs contacted said they felt Mr Carey and Mr Killeen were good colleagues but claimed the two men were too old to have the desired effect of freshening up the Government.

One said: "Mary Coughlan will make a balls of Education. She will fall out and upset everyone. We'll have no one left to support us by the election. Mary Hanafin has been screwed by Brian Cowen because she's a threat."

Irish Independent

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