Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan have made their ministerial selections - and there's going to be plenty of fallout
TAOISEACH Micheál Martin pulled a few surprises out of the hat for his Cabinet selections, which are the real talking point of the new government.
The Fianna Fáil leader has taken the gamble of making Stephen Donnelly his Minister for Health and brought in newly-elected TD Norma Foley as Minister for Education. The fallout within Fianna Fáil is already bubbling as more experienced and loyal figures were cast aside.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar went for a relatively risk-free line-up, with Helen McEntee the only new full Cabinet member in the Fine Gael ranks. Notably, there will be five female ministers sitting around the Cabinet table, with senior posts for Catherine Martin, Heather Humphreys, Helen McEntee and Norma Foley and super junior roles for Pippa Hackett and Hildegarde Naughton.
Here's the run down on the topics, trends and talking points arising from the appointment of the new Cabinet.
‘Harry Potter from Wicklow’ was the moniker Pat Rabbitte attached to Stephen Donnelly because he could magic up simple solutions to complicated problems. He’ll need all his tricks to survive the Department of Health. The Wicklow TD takes over from Greystones, Co Wicklow counterpart, Simon Harris. Donnelly only joined Fianna Fáil in 2017 having been previously elected as an Independent and with the Social Democrats. He now has the task of reforming the health service in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Fianna Fáil is back in 'Angola'.
Micheál Martin has fired the starting gun for the contest to replace him as leader of Fianna Fáil with his selections. In pole position now is Michael McGrath, followed by Barry Cowen, Darragh O’Brien and Stephen Donnelly, depending on the impact they make in their new portfolios. Martin has left out Jim O’Callaghan though, so there is a contender outside the ranks for the dissidents, deflated and defeated TDs who didn’t make ministerial office to rally around. Along with O’Callaghan, frontbenchers cast aside include Thomas Byrne, Marc MacSharry, Robert Troy, Charlie McConalogue, Jack Chambers and Anne Rabbitte. The pot shots are already being fired at Martin from within his party.
Helen McEntee was alongside Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney for the past three years through the Brexit negotiations as Minister for European Affairs. The experience made her a favourite to be elevated and confirm her status as Fine Gael’s rising star. She’s got a major vote of confidence from Varadkar as Minister for Justice. Her ascent has been rapid. She went into politics following the tragic death of her father, junior minister Shane McEntee, in 2012. At 34, she is the second youngest female Cabinet minister ever, after Fianna Fáil's Máire Geoghegan Quinn who was 29 when she was made Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979. Helen McEntee is four months older than Simon Harris, so she’s not the youngest minister. Her uncle, Gerry McEntee, was the teak-tough midfielder in Seán Boylan's great Meath teams of the last 1980s.
The Constitution of 1937 does allow Senators to be appointed as ministers. However, it has only happened twice before. Fianna Fáil’s Eamon de Valera appointed Sean Moylan from the Seanad to be Minister for Agriculture in 1957 after he had lost his Dáil seat. Garret Fitzgerald appointed Jim Dooge as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the short-lived Fine Gael-Labour coalition government of 1981-82. Step forth the Green Party’s Pippa Hackett. She becomes the first female Senator to be appointed as a minister and the first to be a junior minister, albeit a super junior sitting at Cabinet with a role in the Department of Agriculture
The Greens didn't go out of their way to prove they weren’t a Dublin-centric party by appointing three Dublin-based Cabinet ministers. Party leader Eamon Ryan takes Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, deputy leader Catherine Martin is in Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, while Roderic O’Gorman is in Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, which wasn’t abolished after a pushback from the sector. O’Gorman was hugely influential in the negotiations and the was most likely to be picked. Yes, Pippa Hackett is a farmer from Offaly so she carries the Green flag in rural Ireland.
He bottled the reshuffle three years ago when he became Taoiseach, but Leo Varadkar has Blueshirt blood on the walls tonight. Gone are veterans Michael Ring, Charlie Flanagan, Michael Creed, Joe McHugh and Richard Bruton, along with newer southside Dublin TDs Josepha Madigan and Eoghan Murphy. Any promises from Varadkar’s leadership campaign were paid off as the new Tánaiste wielded the axe. Not even Richard Bruton’s rescuing of the talks with the Greens was enough for him to be retained.
Varadkar ultimately played it safe with his Cabinet choices. Paschal Donohoe stays in Finance and Simon Coveney sticks with Foreign Affairs. Heather Humphreys goes to Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands. Simon Harris, whose political fortunes have swung dramatically this year during the coronavirus crisis, is moved out of his Health nightmare and into Higher Education, Innovation and Science. Interestingly, he himself studied journalism and French at DIT but failed to finish his degree as his political ambitions grew, it has been previously reported.
The only brand-new TD in the Cabinet is Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley, who becomes Minister for Education. She’s no novice though and hails from a well-known party dynasty. Her father Denis Foley was a Fianna Fáil TD and she is councillor since 1994. The school teacher from Tralee is head of the Dáil class of 2020. Her late father, Denis Foley, came to prominence nationally 20 years ago when he resigned from Fianna Fáil after it emerged he held an offshore Ansbacher account. Ironically, he was a member of the famous Dáil Public Accounts Committee Dirt inquiry investigating tax evasion. Helen McEntee, Simon Coveney and Dara Calleary also hail from political dynasties.
Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton becomes Super Junior Minister for Transport, Aviation and Maritime Transport. She is a classically trained singer who has won awards for roles in musicals. A member of the Patrician Musical Society in Galway, she has played leading roles, including Yum Yum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’, Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady', and the title role in ‘Calamity Jane’. Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin is a classically trained singer and performed nationally when younger. Like Naughton, the new Minister for Culture taught music before becoming a TD.
The Sir Humphrey’s in the civil service will have a busy weekend after a number of Departments got carved up and switched around. Shane Ross’s Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is no more, broken up into its component parts. The same goes for the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Department of Education and Department of Finance will have two senior ministers swelling their ranks. The Department of Children not only survives, but appears to take the Disability, Equality and Integration briefs from the Department of Health and Department of Justice.
Of the 15 full Cabinet portfolios, not a single senior minister is based west of the Shannon. From Letterkenny to Limerick, it's a barren zone as the Shannon drain sees Cabinet ministers dry up when you cross the river. The mid-west and south-east are also empty. Meanwhile, Dublin and the commuter belt has nine ministers and Cork city has three ministers. The remaining three ministers are from the north-east, midlands and south-west. There are two Junior Ministers sitting at Cabinet from the West, Government Chief Whip Dara Calleary and Super Junior Transport Minister Hildegarde Naughton. But try explaining that tomorrow when rural campaigners complain about a Dublin-centric government. Geography used to rank with genes and gender as criteria in putting a Cabinet together. Not any more.