Tuesday 21 January 2020

Philip Ryan: Varadkar surrounding himself with a 'bunch of lads in suits'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in jovial spirits as he unveils his new Junior Cabinet at Government Buildings. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in jovial spirits as he unveils his new Junior Cabinet at Government Buildings. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar faces accusations from his own party members of surrounding himself with "a bunch of lads in suits" after he failed to promote women during his junior minister reshuffle.

Female Fine Gael TDs were furious with the newly appointed Taoiseach for what they saw as a backwards-looking reshuffle, which saw loyalty promoted.

Most did not want to speak on the record over fears their careers could be stymied further by a vengeful Mr Varadkar, but there was universal bewilderment by his decision to snub women from his inner circle.

"He should have promoted women, his Cabinet looks like a bunch of lads in suits," one angry female TD said.

Another female TD said Mr Varadkar's "big talk of generational change turned out to be Team Leo spin".

Dún Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey said she wanted the party to unite after the leadership campaign but was disappointed by the lack of women promoted.

"It won't stop women from making a difference in public life from the backbenches," she said.

"We've had barriers put in front of us before and we always rise above them."

Last week, the only person demoted by Mr Varadkar during his Cabinet reshuffle was a woman - Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Yesterday, Mr Varadkar's apparent lack of trust in his female colleagues was compounded by his decision to drop Minister of State for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. It was done for no apparent reason other than she did not back him in the Fine Gael leadership campaign. Ms Corcoran Kennedy was one of two minister to lose their title - the other European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy.

However, there was dismay among the Offaly TD's supporters after it emerged Mr Varadkar told the now-former minister he was sacking her simply to "make room for others".

A clearly disappointed Ms Corcoran Kennedy insisted she was "committed" to her job and would continue to campaign in the area of health awareness.

Similarly, Mr Murphy was told by the Taoiseach he was being dropped to make room for TDs who supported him during the leadership campaign.

At the same time Mr Varadkar was telling ministers he was dropping them to make way for his supporters, his advisers were saying all appointments were made on the basis of individual performances.

Not only did Mr Varadkar ensure his reshuffle was a 'jobs for the boys' day out, he also increased the overall number of ministers of State who are to be paid handsomely from the public purse. Under Mr Varadkar there will now be a total of 19 ministers of State, including super juniors, compared with 18 appointed by Enda Kenny after the last election.

In fact, the new Taoiseach is now just one shy of the 20 appointed by former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the height of ministerial debauchery in the 1990s.

There are a total of 34 Government ministers and just six of them are female Fine Gael TDs.

Mr Varadkar limited his options by insisting on not promoting any of the so-called 'class of 2016' TDs who were elected in the last General Election.

This meant very capable female TDs such as Maria Bailey, Kate O'Connell, Josepha Madigan and Hildegarde Naughton missed out on a ministry.

All four have proven to be insightful and hard-working politicians who are eager to succeed in Leinster House.

Ms Bailey and Ms Naughton are currently chairs of Oireachtas Committees. However, Ms Madigan and Ms O'Connell will not be holding their breaths in anticipation of taking the place of one the promoted Oireachtas chairmen. And given Mr Varadkar's record to date they would be correct to temper any expectations.

Irish Independent

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