Wednesday 20 February 2019

Kenny will wait until injury time before making changes

John Downing

John Downing

ENDA Kenny knows that most successful managers make important team changes after half-time. He is going to follow that example – but not yet, preferring to continue into 2014 with the first 15 he unveiled on March 9, 2011.

Kenny will recall that his first government post, a junior ministry given to him by Garret FitzGerald on February 13, 1986, was a sidebar in what was seen as a major publicity disaster for that ill-starred Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The utter refusal of Labour's Health Minister Barry Desmond to move to another department had left FitzGerald looking even more inept and weak and his government even more unpopular than ever.

Mr Kenny's relatively low-key job, with responsibility for youth policy and training, was one of the few positive stories at local level to emerge from a total botch. So he has grounds for staying with his 'not-broken-don't-fix-it' approach to freshening up his team. But his decision to wait into 2014 also suggests that the appointment of a new European Commissioner may well be part of his eventual plan to reshape his team. The European Commissioner's appointment remains the biggest plum in the gift of any Taoiseach.

And it is nearly 30 years since Fine Gael had the chance of bestowing that gift upon one of their own. That was in 1985 when Garret FitzGerald chose his then-Attorney General, Peter Sutherland, for the Brussels post.

There was also a little-remembered incident in December 1994 when the newly elected Taoiseach John Bruton pondered pulling the rug from under Ireland's commissioner of the day, Padraig Flynn.

In 1992, Bruton's predecessor Albert Reynolds had appointed Flynn to an interim term of two years with the understanding that he would get the nod for a further five years.

When an extraordinary series of events catapulted Bruton into the Rainbow Government, he thought long and hard about ousting Flynn in favour of veteran FG MEP Joe McCartin. But Flynn's strong reputation in Brussels and the reluctance of the other Rainbow parties finally made Bruton pull back. These days, the received wisdom around Leinster House is that Environment Minister Phil Hogan is ultimately Brussels bound. Received wisdom is not always borne out in fact. But it is likely that the commissioner's job will go to a Fine Gael minister.

The job carries some €200,000 per year net of tax, perhaps double the current take-home of a minister.

But more importantly the post also carries bankable prestige which endures beyond the five-year term.

The current crop of commissioners, including Ireland's Maire Geoghegan- Quinn, will continue until late 2014.

But the early signalling of an intention to send a heavy-hitting senior politician could help secure an important portfolio which would increase Ireland's clout in Brussels.But apart from 'lateral promotion' to Brussels, at this stage it is very difficult to pick other names from the remaining eight Fine Gael ministers.

There is a strong case for the talented Brian Hayes to be moved up from his post as junior finance minister.

Government chief whip Paul Kehoe also has promotion claims but his effectiveness in his current role makes that seem unlikely.The key question of who the Taoiseach would drop is not easily answered. Once you consider in realpolitik factors such as gender, geography, political loyalty and strategy, the plain reality is that no names immediately spring to mind.

It is likely that the Taoiseach would direct his attentions more closely at the junior ministerial ranks as he attempts to resolve issues within the Fine Gael party. He showed this tendency in July when he moved within hours to replace Lucinda Creighton with Paschal Donohoe after she voted against the party on the abortion issue.

There is a minority school of thought at Leinster House which suggests that a Labour nominee would get the Brussels job.

WHILE that seems most unlikely, it is clear that Labour's five seats at Cabinet are a given in any re-shuffle and that party leader Eamon Gilmore has the key say in any positional or personnel changes relating to Labour ministers.

There is every chance that Mr Gilmore will leave Foreign Affairs and take a more home-based job which would allow him devote more attention to finding remedies for his party's troubles. Social Protection Minister Joan Burton may well believe she has done her time in that difficult job.

In the Labour junior ranks, Jan O'Sullivan, Kathleen Lynch and Sean Sherlock are most often talked about for promotion. But, as with Fine Gael, no names among Gilmore's quartet of colleagues immediately spring to mind. It is reasonable to assume that these factors are another reason why Kenny is not rushing towards a Cabinet reshuffle.

Irish Independent

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