Saturday 17 March 2018

Fantasy cabinet: Andrew Lynch takes out his crystal ball

As negotiations around the formation of a new government continue to falter, the prospect of a grand Fine Gael and Fianna Fail coalition looks increasingly likely. But what might that cabinet look like?

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch

We may be about to see history in the making. There is now a growing expectation within Leinster House that, after nobody is elected Taoiseach next Thursday, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will begin talks on the possible formation of a new ‘grand coalition’.

But what would that government actually look like? Clearly it needs to be a genuine partnership, with selfish party interests put aside and neither side lording it over the other.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

So here is a fantasy FF-FG cabinet that might just transform Ireland for good – with the emphasis very much on talent and energy, rather than experience.

Rotating Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs: Leo Varadkar (FG) and Micheal Martin (FF)

Let’s assume that Enda Kenny has suffered enough and either jumps or is pushed overboard.

Leo Varadkar must be the most likely successor, if only because he has more charisma than Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald put together.

Fine Gael's Simon Harris. Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael's Simon Harris. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath. Photo: Tony Gavin

As for Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin had an excellent General Election and has earned his crack at the top job.

What would each leader do when his counterpart is keeping the Taoiseach’s chair warm? The obvious answer is Foreign Affairs – allowing them to represent Ireland abroad while staying out of each other’s hair.

Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure: Simon Harris (FG) and Michael McGrath (FF)

Since Michael Noonan now looks way past his best, Fine Gael should roll the dice with Simon Harris – the 29-year-old wunderkind recently described by Gay Byrne as “a smart young cove... he leaves me gasping in admiration”.

John McGuinness
John McGuinness

On the Fianna Fail side, softly-spoken Michael McGrath has proven himself to be capable, constructive and, most importantly, a team player.

Minister for Health: John McGuinness (FF)

Who wants to go to Angola? What this position needs is a tough-talking reformer who itches to take on vested interests and does not give a damn about their personal popularity.

Step forward John McGuinness, the maverick Public Accounts Committee chairman who fancies himself as a bruiser and deserves the ultimate challenge.

Simon Coveney. Photo: Damien Eagers
Simon Coveney. Photo: Damien Eagers
Fianna Fail's Niall Collins Photo: Tom Burke

Minister for Education: Simon Coveney (FG)

Is Simon a bit too nice to be Taoiseach? Maybe so, but his people skills could prove very useful in the Department of Education – where delicate negotiations will be needed to complete the secularisation and curriculum reforms already under way.

Minister for Justice: Niall Collins (FF)

As gangland crime rears its ugly head again, this is another cabinet position that requires a tough nut. Niall Collins seems to fit the bill.

Coming from Limerick, he knows exactly how bodies such as the Special Criminal Court can make a real difference – and his ideas on strengthening the Garda Siochana deserve to be given a chance.

Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Collins
Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Collins
Barry Cowen Photo: Tom Burke

Minister for Social Protection: Frances Fitzgerald (FG)

If Fitzgerald fails to win the Fine Gael leadership, she will need to be given a reasonable consolation prize.

Social Protection is a good fit for her, since it requires a safe pair of hands.

Minister for the Environment: Barry Cowen (FF)

The first big headache for any Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition will be deciding what to do about water charges.

Barry Cowen is hard-headed, articulate and one of the few people who might be able to hammer out a compromise.

Bertie Ahern recently tipped him as a future leader – which would be easy to imagine if he didn’t look and sound so much like his brother Brian.

Minister for Communications: Eoghan Murphy (FG)

Fine Gael urgently need an injection of new blood at the top table. Eoghan Murphy, leader of the Five-A-Side rebels who caused Enda Kenny some grief during the last Dail, could help to freshen up the party’s image.

The 33-year-old would also slot in nicely at Communications, which needs a minister who is completely at ease with 21st century media.

Minister for Transport: Billy Kelleher (FF)

As Director of Elections for Fianna Fail, Kelleher was awkward on camera, but obviously effective behind the scenes.

In other words, he is the opposite of Paschal Donohoe, whose bleatings about the Luas strikes are still achieving nothing whatsoever. Time for a new man to take the wheel.

Minister for Jobs: Richard Bruton (FG)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Richard Bruton has almost halved the unemployment rate during his five years in charge and it now stands at just 8.8pc.

He should be left to carry on the good work.

Minister for Agriculture:  Eamon O Cuiv (FF)

Could Eamon de Valera’s grandson serve in a cabinet full of Blueshirts?

Maybe not – but Fianna Fail would prefer to have him inside the tent urinating out rather than the alternative – and Agriculture is the one job that might just tempt him.

Minister for Children: Regina Doherty (FG)

Outspoken and unpretentious, Doherty has proven herself as one of Fine Gael’s best media performers and should be in the cabinet already.

Minister for Arts: Josepha Madigan (FG)

A left-field choice, perhaps, but the new Dublin Rathdown TD has real star potential.

As the author of a raunchy novel, Arts could be an ideal place for her to start.

Super-junior Minister for Employment: Lisa Chambers (FF)

Giving the ‘high-chair’ cabinet seat to one of Fianna Fail’s most ambitious newcomers provides a perfect eight-eight balance to the top table.

So, would this ‘team of all the talents’ get good results? There is only one way to find out.


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