Saturday 18 January 2020

Varadkar's 'Dublin government' risks him building up some political divides

Representing May: Michael Ring TD Picture: Tom Burke
Representing May: Michael Ring TD Picture: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Leo Varadkar's first Cabinet truly can be called a "Dublin government". The problem is the convenient shorthand term, normally used to distinguish the Irish Republic's administration from the one in London, Belfast, or elsewhere in the EU, now takes on a more ironic tinge.

Precisely half of the 18 senior and super-junior ministries thus far allocated by the new Taoiseach go to the capital. There's a light sprinkling across the country, and some really alarming gaps.

There are just three close to the entire Atlantic coast with an enormous gap from Mayo/Roscommon all the way south to Cork which has two. There are two in the north-east; one in the midlands; and just one in the entire south-east.

True, coalition governments can cause complications with the idea of distribution as a stack of jobs are taken from the Taoiseach's gift. Three of the Independents attending Cabinet - Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and Katherine Zappone - are Dublin-based.

But Fine Gael has often struggled with the idea of geographic distribution. Its former leader and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald famously complained that Irish political culture placed undue emphasis on geography.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny saw his career stunted for decades in part due to geography and was more sensitive to the realpolitik attached to it. But even his last cabinet struggled with western seaboard representation with a huge chasm masked by the presence of the Taoiseach in Mayo and the Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, in Limerick.

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Leo Varadkar's first Cabinet has Joe McHugh in Donegal and the redoubtable Michael Ring in Mayo. Then there is nothing as you journey from Mayo all the way south to Macroom, where Michael Creed is based, little more than 30km from Cork city where you will find Simon Coveney.

The gaping hole left in Galway, Clare, and especially Limerick, looks pretty risky for Fine Gael. Limerick has lost a particularly strong local advocate in Michael Noonan. That absence could compound problems regaining a foothold in five-seat Tipperary, where Fine Gael has no TD, and Kerry where they have just one out of five. This writer has previously noted the case of Donegal which last had a full senior minister in 1957. Contrast that with national household names in the interim who were pushed forward by Fianna Fáil: Neil Blaney, Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher, Mary Coughlan and Jim McDaid.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is flying a lone flag in the midlands. But for several counties all around him there is nobody else. You have to go to the far south-east to find another minister, Paul Kehoe.

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If you come from Dublin, or have forgotten where you came from, look at those Government jobs so far by county:

Nine for Dublin: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Enterprise & Innovation Frances Fitzgerald; Finance & Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe; Education Richard Bruton; Children Katherine Zappone; Housing Eoghan Murphy; Transport Shane Ross; super junior, Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor; super junior Health Finian McGrath.

Two for Cork: Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney; Agriculture Michael Creed. One each for: Laois (Charlie Flanagan, Justice); Wicklow (Simon Harris, Health); Roscommon (Denis Naughten, Communications); Mayo (Michael Ring, Rural Affairs); Meath (Regina Doherty, Social Protection); Donegal (Joe McHugh, Chief Whip); and Wexford (Paul Kehoe, super junior Defence).

Will it be Leo's undoing at the next election?

It all puts an even sharper focus on the appointment of junior ministers next Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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