Sunday 25 February 2018

Kenny's big plan to halt rise of Sinn Fein

Reshuffle of junior ministers part of vote-winning plan

TDs Simon Harris along with Mary Mitchell O'Connor
TDs Simon Harris along with Mary Mitchell O'Connor
TD Kevin Humpheys
TD Joanna Tuffy

Niall O'Connor and Fionnan Sheahan

THE Government will attempt to halt the rise of Sinn Fein in the capital by appointing a number of junior ministers from the greater Dublin area this week.

Fine Gael and Labour strategists say the promotion of TDs from constituencies where Sinn Fein is recording major gains will be essential for both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton.

The coalition partners agree that the surge in support for Gerry Adams's party must be forcefully addressed, as attention begins to switch to the next general election.

The plan to thwart Sinn Fein will be reflected in the handing out of junior ministerial jobs, which is expected to take place tomorrow.

But the focus on Dublin will be a gamble – as it is likely to result in rural TDs losing out.

Mr Kenny is expected to appoint as many as three new junior ministers from the greater Dublin area as he prepares to drop some of the "deadwood on the ministerial benches".

"Sinn Fein romped home in Dublin in the locals. The void of ministers has to be addressed as a matter of urgency," said a Fine Gael strategist.

Meanwhile, new Labour leader Ms Burton is looking at adopting a similar approach as the party prepares a major push at winning back Dublin support it has lost to Sinn Fein.

A senior Labour figure concurred that the rise in Sinn Fein's support in the capital is threatening the future of the party.

"We've lost so much ground to them in Dublin. We need to stop them in their tracks by whatever means possible.

"If that involves appointing someone a minister because of their Dublin base, then it is something that should be strongly considered."

The major focus on the capital in the reshuffle could save veteran TD Joe Costello from being dropped, while his Labour colleagues Kevin Humphreys, Joanna Tuffy and John Lyons are all in contention for a promotion.

The Sinn Fein threat will also result in Mr Kenny appointing junior ministers from Dublin, Wicklow and Meath.

This could see promotions handed to TDs Simon Harris, Damien English and Dublin deputies Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Eoghan Murphy.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor has been widely tipped to be handed a promotion, partly as a result of her south Dublin base.

But her prospects have been hindered by intense behind the scenes lobbying on behalf of Mr Murphy, a member of the so-called 'five-a-side club'.

The Irish Independent can reveal that Mr Murphy has indicated that he is willing to step down from the banking inquiry if he is handed a junior ministry.

But a number of other Fine Gael TDs are also lobbying for a promotion ahead of the announcement, which follows the cabinet reshuffle last week.

These include Damien English, Liam Twomey, Simon Harris, Dara Murphy, Regina Doherty and Andrew Doyle. A senior source said the vacant junior finance post is a toss-up between Mr English and Mr Twomey.

Along with the promotions, Mr Kenny must also drop some veteran TDs. Top of this dreaded list is the Minister for Small Business John Perry, whose position is now effectively redundant following the appointment of Labour's Ged Nash as super junior minister at the Department of Enterprise.

"Why would Perry stay? Ged Nash's new job means Perry doesn't have a job to go to any more," said a source.

There is also speculation with the party that junior minister at the Department of the Environment, Fergus O'Dowd, will face the chop.

Fine Gael are adamant that the junior minister in this department "must keep a close eye on (Environment Minister) Alan Kelly".

Dinny McGinley and Ciaran Cannon may also be shipped out of their respective positions to make way for younger blood.

But Fine Gael junior agriculture minister Tom Hayes is regarded as safe, and is expected to be given added responsibilities now that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is also in charge of Defence.

Mr Coveney's time is expected to be divided between the two areas. Meanwhile Carlow/ Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan is the favourite to become the new junior minister for rural affairs, who will be charge of rural development, rural transport and rural communities.

The implementation of the report by the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, chaired by GAA analyst Pat Spillane, will also be part of this brief.


Meanwhile, Ms Burton yesterday confirmed that prominent Labour politician Kathleen Lynch was not promoted to the senior ministerial ranks at her own request.

The Cork TD is to remain as Minister for State with responsibility for Mental Health. She will also see her portfolio extend to the area of Primary Care following the position of Alex White to Cabinet.

Other Labour figures vying for promotion include Cork TD Michael McCarthy, Kerry TD Arthur Spring and Wicklow's Anne Ferris.

Ms Burton must decide whether to move to drop Sean Sherlock, whose second place in the deputy leadership contest is being attributed to his connections with Democratic Left.

The new Labour leader insisted that she wants to hand promotions to members of the "Class of 2011", referring to the new crop of TDs.

Irish Independent

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