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Ministers may be shuffled out of the St Patrick's Day parade

MINISTERS will lose out on their St Patrick's Day junkets if Taoiseach Brian Cowen reshuffles them out of his Cabinet in the next fortnight.

Tourism Minister Martin Cullen won't be going away regardless, because of his back problems.

Social Welfare Minister Mary Hanafin yesterday sought to dismiss the speculation surrounding Mr Cullen's future.

She said there was "no indication" he was planning to step down from Cabinet because of a renewed back complaint.

"It hasn't impacted at all on his work and he's there fighting the issues on tourism and on sport and the arts this week as much as any other week. I certainly don't see any signs that he's willingly going anywhere," she said.

Minister Hanafin also said she would "love" to see some newly elected backbenchers from the last general election being promoted to junior ministerial level.

The list of trips abroad for St Patrick's Day is still being finalised and is expected to be announced next week.

Mr Cowen is going to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House and tying in a number of trade visits.

The Taoiseach will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin. Mr Cowen is still expected to announce his new Cabinet in the coming weeks -- possibly before St Patrick's Day.

In the event of changes to the Cabinet, the minister's trips can be altered.

"It makes no difference. That's not a factor at all. That won't even be a consideration in this," a source said.

Mr Martin also issued a stark warning yesterday about the danger of "personalising" the impending reshuffle.

The minister also said Fianna Fail needed to "hold its nerve" until the benefits of tough economic measures being implemented were reaped by both the country and party.


"I think we have had a difficult 18 months basically because of the worst economic recession since the 1930s," he said.

Mr Cowen welcomed the European Commission "sanctioning the NAMA proposals and said "internationally, there is a lot of confidence in this government."

"I think we should hold our nerve as a party and accept that there is going to be anger and annoyance over the measures we have had to take," he said.

"But I think that, in the fullness of time, it is going to reflect well on the Fianna Fail since we have been seen to do the right thing when we come through this recession," he added.

Mr Martin refused to be drawn on Taoiseach Brian Cowen's upcoming Cabinet reshuffle -- or on which senior ministers may now be demoted.

"I think people should refrain from personalising it. I think it is up to the Taoiseach to decide what particular team he wants to serve at any particular time," he declared.

Mr Martin also refused to be drawn on FF TD Mattie McGrath's views on which veteran ministers should now be 'retired'.

"Mattie has his views and Mattie has had different views on different issues. I think he has brought his own unique style to the party and we are a broad church in that respect," he added.

The minister warned that the reshuffle was entirely a matter for Mr Cowen, and that every politician was honoured to be in Cabinet, irrespective of the post they were asked to fill.

Meanwhile, Ms Hanafin said she would "rise to any challenge" presented.

"I'd like to stay in the Cabinet and, remember, the Taoiseach is the only one who can make decisions on that. I certainly enjoy the work that I'm doing at the moment."

Ms Hanafin said she would "love" to see some of the party's new backbenchers promoted.

"When you look at the latest appointments -- just to mention those who were appointed most recently, who would be Dara Calleary and Aine Brady -- they're both doing a superb job. So we're very lucky in Fianna Fail that we have such a range of ages, backgrounds and talents."

Analysis: Page 28, 29

Irish Independent