Monday 21 May 2018

Geography will be new leader's biggest headache as he selects ministers

Health Minister Simon Harris backed Simon Coveney. Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris backed Simon Coveney. Photo: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

As a trained doctor, it can be assumed Leo Varadkar did very well indeed in the Leaving Cert. He may or may not have studied geography, but either way, he is about to get a crash course in the subject as he considers his future Cabinet and the ranks of junior ministers.

Limited in the number of vacancies at his disposal, he will also be shackled by the need to ensure a decent regional spread of the big jobs.

And it is set to become Mr Varadkar's biggest headache given the sheer number of TDs in all corners of the country that backed him over his rival Simon Coveney.

The departure of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan from Cabinet leaves a big gaping hole of senior ministers along the entire Western seaboard.

There is a widespread view that either junior ministers Michael Ring or Seán Kyne will be promoted to fill that gap.

In that sense, the situation west of the Shannon may be relatively easy for Mr Varadkar to box off when compared to the south-east, a region that is packed with his supporters.

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There are the two TDs in Carlow/Kilkenny - early Varadkar backers John Paul Phelan and Pat Deering.

Next door in Wexford are current 'super junior' Defence Minister Paul Kehoe and Michael D'Arcy, also important supporters.

And don't forget John Deasy in Waterford, long overlooked for promotion to the ministerial ranks.

Geographic considerations mean it will be difficult to accommodate all of them in the new line-up, and the region also already has another junior minister in Independent Alliance TD John Halligan.

Mr Varadkar has confirmed he was happy for the Independents to stay in their current roles.

The current situation in Meath - where all three of the party's TDs, Regina Doherty, Helen McEntee and Damien English, were appointed as ministers by Mr Kenny - was given by one source as an example of the geography challenge facing Mr Varadkar.

"Nothing against any of them, but there was a lot of eyebrows raised when there were three put there," the source said. The TD also said there would be limited scope for Mr Varadkar to make appointments in Dublin, given the presence of so many ministers, both Fine Gael and Independent, based in the capital and commuter belt. 

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Junior Finance Minister and Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy is expected to be among those first in line for promotion to Cabinet due to his role as Mr Varadkar's campaign manager.

Paschal Donohoe is also expected to stay in Cabinet, as is Frances Fitzgerald. Cork-based Housing Minister Mr Coveney is guaranteed a prominent role.

Ironically, in some cases, it may be easier for Mr Varadkar to appoint backers of Mr Coveney like Simon Harris, as it would be a magnanimous move.

Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery summarised the dilemma during an appearance on RTÉ's the 'Week in Politics'. He said he was sure Mr Varadkar would "go for the best government of talent he can get", but he added: "No leader can totally ignore things like geography."

Speaking after his election, Mr Varadkar conceded "it's never possible to keep everyone happy", but pledged to "put together as good a team as I possibly can".

Whatever decisions he makes in the coming days, there will be some TDs in the party that will give him an 'A+' for his ministerial choices. Those who lose out in the job stakes due to geographic considerations are likely to offer a big fat 'F'.

Irish Independent

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