Cowen likely to fill post quickly as race opens up
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is expected to concentrate on finding a direct replacement for former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea rather than engaging in a wider cabinet reshuffle.
There will be strong pressure on Mr Cowen to ensure that Limerick does not lose its presence at the cabinet table. The city has suffered from the loss of 1,900 jobs following the closure of Dell's manufacturing plant in Raheen and there have been new IDA jobs announcements in the city since.
That means that Junior Minister Peter Power, who represents the same Limerick East constituency as Mr O'Dea, is a frontrunner for the job. He has had to preside over a slashing of the budget for Irish Aid since becoming Junior Minister for Overseas Development, but is regarded as a competent performer.
Another of the early favourites is Government chief whip Pat Carey, who has worked hard to keep Mr Cowen's coalition in power at a time when it has a wafer-thin majority. The former national teacher, who represents the Dublin North West constituency, was promoted to chief whip by Mr Cowen when he took charge in May 2008.
Mr Cowen has played his cards close to his chest as to when he will announce a full-scale reshuffle of the cabinet he selected almost two years ago. There is continuing concern about the health of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who is bravely battling against cancer and who has been actively carrying out his role so far. Mr Cowen is likely to wait until the summer before making any changes.
In the meantime, other candidates for Mr O'Dea's job include Junior Minister for Agriculture Tony Killeen, who has overcome bowel cancer and represents the Mid-West through the neighbouring constituency of Clare. Minister for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources Conor Lenihan is another possibility, which would lead to two members of the Lenihan clan at the cabinet table.
Another candidate linked with the post of Defence Minister last night also comes from a political dynasty. Junior Minister for Children Barry Andrews, whose grandfather Todd and father David both served in the Dail, has been busy handling the fallout from the multiple inquiries into sexual abuse.
The Department of Defence is regarded as one of the less prestigious ministries, given its relatively small budget. But there will be intense competition within Fianna Fail to secure the top job there.
An outside bet is Junior Minister Martin Mansergh, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works. He has been a loyal defender of both former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the Government -- a quality admired by Mr Cowen.
Last night, Mr Cowen announced that he would be taking over Mr O'Dea's responsibilities as Defence Minister temporarily in the wake of the Limerick TD's resignation.