Monday 16 September 2019

The Yates Anthology: Kenny's new cabinet will be coloured pink

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty
Fine Gael's Regina Doherty
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

This Wednesday, we'll have a new government at the fourth attempt, and Enda Kenny's new cabinet will comprise Fine Gael and Independent TDs. First flavour will be pink, as Kenny has promised gender equality for ministers, so we can expect at least one third to be women.

The famous five are set to be Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Regina Doherty and Katherine Zappone.

One of the first names on the first XV team sheet is certain to be the new Independent TD for Dublin South-West. Zappone (benefiting from mentor Mary Harney's savvy advice) made a master stroke in breaking ranks with all Independent TDs by voting for Kenny on the last occasion. Her loyalty and gender ensure a full cabinet post, either at Education or Children. She's stolen a march in being upfront with FG negotiators in asserting a willingness to "serve".

Maureen O'Sullivan, who may not stand for the Dáil again, could bag a junior ministry if she enlists.

Other Independents set to be ministers include Shane Ross (Communications or Transport), Michael Healy Rae or Michael Fitzmaurice (new Rural Affairs department) and Finian McGrath (junior minister in Health with special responsibility for Disabilities). Intriguingly, Kenny may also mend fences with Denis Naughten, expelled from FG over the vote on Roscommon Hospital. Naughten was the foremost leader of the heave against Enda in 2010, but readily held onto the seat despite FG's Maura Hopkins's attempts to dislodge him. Denis may split from Rural Alliance TDs Mattie McGrath and Noel Grealish, who preferred a Fianna Fáil minority administration.

Within FG, a significant reshuffle can be anticipated as Kenny knows the potential impact of ministerial appointments on the leadership succession stakes. Leo can expect to remain detained in Hawkins House to wallow in the woes of hospital trolleys, waiting lists and HSE budget overruns. Frances can continue on the treadmill at Justice with its inherent minefields of gangland killings, garda industrial unrest and prisoners released from 'un-suspended' sentences. Simon could be switched to Howlin's former job at Public Expenditure to cool his heels and deal with a myriad of public sector disputes.

Michael Noonan's health problems mean Enda will allow him decide whether to stay at Finance, but retirement for both beckons. Noonan staying in Merrion Street would avoid a proxy succession choice between Leo and Simon.

Expect Paschal Donohoe, promoted in both recent reshuffles, to land the plum prize of the jobs ministry at the expense of Richard Bruton, who may be a surprise loser. Simon Harris is certain to be the new government chief whip.

If Kenny wants to extend the olive branch to internal opponents, two promotion possibles are Michael Creed (Cork North-West) or Eoin Murphy, who successfully kept Lucinda Creighton out.

Other dark horses for junior jobs are Pat Breen (Clare), Sean Kyne (Galway), John Paul Phelan (Carlow/Kilkenny) and Patrick O'Donovan (Limerick County), as all held on to two seats.

And quelle surprise! The anticipated dissent over FG's cave-in on water charges evaporated immediately given the prospects of imminent self-advancement. 'Principles' can be readily exchanged for personal preferment. Amongst the parliamentary party, especially backbenchers, one cannot bite the hand that feeds…

Unfinished business

The past administration's greatest claim to success was job creation, with unemployment reducing from 15pc to 8.6pc last month. They launched the 'Action Plan for Jobs' about 437 times, but economic growth hasn't resolved endemic youth unemployment, which remains at 19pc for those under 24 years of age.

Since the demise of Fás, new structures and organisations haven't stemmed tens of thousands in their 20s from emigrating. The number of apprenticeships and range of skillsets offered by Solas are wholly inadequate. Traineeships, with shorter times and more immediate employability, don't even exist.

The Department of Social Protection is responsible for a variety of community development schemes including Tus and Gateway. But these are used to massage the live register numbers - their administrative culture is income maintenance or activation, rather than an employment ethos.

JobBridge is under constant fire for exploiting vulnerable young people. Only 15,000 out of 46,000 participants since 2011 were retained in the employment of their sponsor and, incredibly, 11,193 dropped out prematurely. But critics' calls for its abolition throws out both the baby and the bath water, and will deny school leavers the vital experience of a first job. Reforms to ban repeat employer abuses and an increase in the weekly payment rate from €50 to €100 would fix the flaws. Proper policing of meaningful training is the most credible solution.

The new jobs minister should be empowered to deal with the entire panoply of State employment and training schemes under one roof, or the recovery won't tackle long-term or youth unemployment.

Weekend winners

Racing fans have waited all winter for tomorrow's Newmarket 2000 Guineas to see Air Force Blue (4/6) confirm Aidan O'Brien's assertion he's their best ever two-year-old. Regardless of ground conditions, I confidently expect Ryan Moore to take charge in the final furlong and win. Apparently his recent homework at Ballydoyle is unbelievable.

Sunday means Semple Stadium. I've a hunch this could be Clare's year. The hat-trick of Under-21 All-Ireland titles and key players from their 2013 glory provide a basis to beat Waterford tomorrow and go on to win the Munster title (7/1 odds on the double).

The Davy Fitz/Donal Óg duo can build on the Kilkenny triumph in the semi-final, marching to more silverware.

Irish Independent

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