Friday 24 November 2017

Taoiseach will reward some 'rebels' with junior jobs - but many will lose out

Junior Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy hopes to keep her job Photo: Tom Burke
Junior Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy hopes to keep her job Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Leo Varadkar will reward some long-time rebels who backed his leadership campaign when he announces his junior ministerial team tomorrow.

But an abundance of promotion candidates and a shortage of available jobs means that the new Taoiseach risks causing far more dissent and division in the party ranks with these appointments than with the senior team announced last week. Overall, Mr Varadkar may only have space to appoint four or five newcomers to the ranks.

Hotly tipped for promotion are John Paul Phelan of Carlow-Kilkenny; Jim Daly of Cork South-West; and Michael D'Arcy of Wexford. All of them played a big role in Mr Varadkar's election campaign and in keeping up pressure on the outgoing leader, Enda Kenny, to declare his exit plans.

Mr Varadkar has also come under pressure to maintain the four junior ministers who backed his rival Simon Coveney. But at least two of these - David Stanton of Cork East, and Dara Murphy of Cork North-Central - appear vulnerable to demotion.

Mr Stanton's job as Junior Justice Minister was last week offered to, but spurned by, demoted senior minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor, before she accepted the job of Junior Education Minister.

Mr Murphy is cited as likely to make space for Jim Daly, who comes from a neighbouring constituency.

Fine Gael party sources have indicated that the criterion of "geography, gender, talent and loyalty" will apply to the choice of junior ministers as much as to senior ministers. But loyalty will loom much larger this time as many of the Varadkar backers feel their more realistic preferment hope centred on a junior post.

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Most of the Varadkar backers in the outgoing junior ranks will fancy their chances of keeping their positions. These are Catherine Byrne (Dublin South-Central), Patrick O'Donovan (Limerick), Seán Kyne (Galway West), Pat Breen (Clare), Helen McEntee (Meath East), and Andrew Doyle (Wicklow).

Two of those who backed Mr Coveney - Damien English and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - are thought likely to also hang on also for reasons of party popularity and gender respectively.

Those looking for meaningful posts with real powers include John Paul Phelan, who was very disappointed not to make the senior ranks.

Mr Kyne was annoyed at the manner in which he learned of the loss of responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs which is central to his own Galway West heartland. Mr D'Arcy is engaged in intense competition with his Wexford colleague Paul Kehoe, who got a super-junior post last week.

Others in the mix for promotion are Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, and party chairman Martin Heydon of Kildare South, who impressed as 'referee' in the leadership contest and already has been working on planning for the next election.

Fergus O'Dowd of Louth, dropped by Mr Kenny in July 2014, is also being cited for a possible comeback.

The Taoiseach also faces difficulty in getting through legislation to increase the pay of demoted minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor. As a super-junior minister she would get a top-up of €16,200 a year on her junior ministerial salary of €124,000.

But under current law there is only scope for two super-juniors attending Cabinet without voting rights. Two of three named last week, Independent Finian McGrath and Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe, were previously appointed to that position.

Party sources yesterday said the Taoiseach was most unlikely to prioritise such legislation ahead of more pressing matters in the law-making queue. Fianna Fáil has pledged to block the extra appointment, saying it is only designed to resolve Fine Gael's internal problems and that current numbers are sufficient for the workload.

Irish Independent

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