IT'S somewhat ironic that the largest pair of cojones belonging to a minister in this Old Boys' Club of a government is attached to the most ladylike of the three women in the Cabinet, Mary Hanafin.
To say that the Taoiseach's much-anticipated reshuffle was akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic would be incorrect -- Brian Cowen simply moved the deckchairs over to the iceberg.
There had been a sense of expectation around Leinster House recently that, for a Government running out of steam in the middle of some seriously choppy waters, this reshuffle represented a real opportunity for the Taoiseach to chuck a few of the wonkier chairs overboard.
Instead Cap'n Cowen fiddled about with the furniture, kept his existing crew intact -- albeit with a few incomprehensible changes of duties for some of them -- and made a few predictable promotions from the lower ranks of junior officers.
Amazingly for such a long lead-in time to the announcement of a reshuffle which had been mooted since the beginning of the year, no leaks had sprung from any insiders beforehand -- only lots and lots of rumours, surmise and wild guesses.
Just after lunch yesterday, the swirling rumours began to harden into facts. Pat Carey, Tony Killeen and John Curran were heading up the rope-ladder. No big surprises there. Then another whisper began doing the rounds. Mary was getting a demotion. No surprise there either -- to put it politely the Tanaiste hasn't exactly covered herself in glory as Enterprise Minister. But wait, it was the other Mary. Who, Harney?
Well, she is a senior minster without a party and she has been in the wars recently over the X-ray debacle in Tallaght hospital. No, Mary Hanafin.
Get away -- surely she's one of the more competent members of the front bench, and also one of the few ministers who doesn't regard the media as comparable to a pit full of poisonous snakes.
Finally at 3.15pm the Taoiseach filed into the Dail chamber accompanied, as is tradition, by his new-look Cabinet. But wait, this couldn't be right. There was a decidedly familiar look to his new-look crew. The Tanaiste was still beside him, followed by all the usual suspects -- Dermot, Noel, Mary Harney, Micheal, Eamon O Cuiv and so on.
It was depressingly clear that Brian's much vaunted Operation Transformation was Operation Stagnation instead.
But then in came the three new appointees -- and they were all broadly welcomed by all sides of the House, in particular Pat Carey's elevation from Chief Whip to Minister for the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, as Pat is regarded as a hard-working and even-handed chap.
Brian Cowen then stood up and announced the other changes. Mary Coughlan is leaving Enterprise, Trade and Employment and off to Education. Eamon O Cuiv is departing Craggy Island (Community, Rural Affairs and the Gaeltacht) and taking over the semi-new Department of Social Protection, Batt O'Keeffe is swapping Education for Enterprise, and Social Welfare Minister Mary Hanafin is now the new Minister for Fun at Arts, Sports and Tourism.
Jaws dropped all over the place, as Brian Cowen talked up the "fresh focus" that his reshuffle would lead to after "reinvigorating my team".
Enda Kenny was deeply unimpressed, and accused Brian of "giving the same team the same time to do the same damage", while an equally scornful Eamon Gilmore simply gestured to the Government front bench.
"This is not what change looks like," he declared.
But before the dust had quite settled on the Taoiseach's announcement, out marched Mary Hanafin, accompanied by newly-promoted backbencher Sean Connick, to face the music and the large posse of media waiting on the plinth.
SHE proclaimed herself to be "absolutely delighted" with her move to her new department. "I see more challenges in this one," she declared. "I've spent the last two years dealing with people who have lost their jobs, what I want to do now is deal with the 200,000 who have jobs in the tourism industry and make sure that they hold them and expand it," she added.
She had a kind word for Mary Coughlan, saying that she believed the Tanaiste would be "very, very good" as Education Minister, and resolutely refused to regard her own move as a demotion.
"Since the foundation of the State, since Countess Markiewicz, 12 women have held the position of senior government ministers and I'm one of them and I'm one of only three this time," she said.
The enthusiasm -- feigned or genuine -- was rolling out of her. This, after all, is showtime for a media-savvy politician determined to save face for the cameras.
"I think that anyone in Ireland would accept that arts and culture tourism and sports are things that eat into the heart of who we are. It's part of our identity, it's part of our being," she insisted.
But despite Mary's hard-sell, it was a bit of a soft-shoe shuffle from Brian. And it wasn't a good day for women, including Mary Coughlan.
In the aftermath, Fine Gael's James Reilly pointed across the chamber to the Tanaiste. "I see before me somebody who's going to now be in charge of Education who doesn't know the difference between Darwin and Einstein," he sniped.
Not much evolution around here. Just survival of the not-necessarily fittest. Stagnation once again.