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Martin stands by promotion of 14 rookies to frontbench

FIANNA FAIL leader Micheal Martin last night insisted it was "absolutely credible" to appoint 14 people who have never served in Cabinet to his new-look frontbench.

Controversial former ministers such as Willie O'Dea and John McGuinness are returning to the frontline of Fianna Fail, under the new line-up of 21 spokespeople.

Mr O'Dea was forced to resign as defence minister, while Mr McGuinness was demoted to a junior minister under Taoiseach Brian Cowen's leadership of the party.

The six senior ministers and Government Chief Whip, who survived the recent botched reshuffle and who are not retiring at the next election, have all retained senior positions.

The newly elected leader Mr Martin said he wanted to use the "full talent" available to him.

He appointed six senior ministers, five junior ministers, six backbenchers, one senator, two councillors and one former local election candidate who is now running in the general election.

The three appointees who are not members of the Dail or Seanad are all Dublin-based.

A number of junior ministers such as Aine Brady, John Moloney, Sean Connick, Sean Haughey, Dick Roche and Conor Lenihan did not feature on the frontbench line-up.

But Mr Martin insisted they would be continuing with their ministerial work and played-down any suggestions they had been overlooked.

Other junior ministers, however, such as John Curran, Dara Calleary, Billy Kelleher and Peter Power have been promoted.

And despite the turmoil in Fianna Fail over candidate selections and consistently poor opinion poll results, Mr Martin insisted he was building a "team for government".

Tourism and Enterprise Minister Mary Hanafin, who emerged as an early favourite for the deputy leadership position, now takes over from Mary Coughlan as deputy leader.

Mr Martin said Ms Hanafin is a "woman of considerable experience" and a "very capable minister".

The Dun Laoghaire TD, who faces an immense battle to retain her seat, showed "great courage and conviction" in contesting leadership, Mr Martin said.

And he defended his decision to appoint a total of 14 people who have never served in cabinet and have no experience of senior ministries.

"It's absolutely credible. This is a new way of doing politics. The old ways are not going to suffice anymore. What this is clearly saying is that we do need to open up opportunity," Mr Martin said yesterday on the plinth of Leinster House.


Former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, who resigned from Cabinet over the controversy surrounding the contents of an affidavit made to the High Court, paid a "heavy price" at the time, Mr Martin said.

"I've known Willie for a long time and I say this without hesitation or without equivocation, he is one of the most talented people in Leinster House," Mr Martin added.

Backbenchers such as Cavan-Monaghan's Margaret Conlon and Meath East's Thomas Byrne had been tipped for promotion to the frontbench but were overlooked by Mr Martin.

Instead, Fianna Fail councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who was famously shafted by Bertie Ahern's electoral machine in Dublin Central during the 2007 elections, has overtaken sitting TDs in the promotion stakes.

Likewise, Dublin North East general election candidate Averil Power, who is an adviser to Ms Hanafin and who ran in the local elections but failed to win a seat, has been promoted straight to the frontbenches.

Irish Independent