Friday 18 January 2019

Noonan still casts a long shadow over Cabinet door

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan
John Downing

John Downing

SINCE entering Government Buildings as Taoiseach on March 9, 2011, Enda Kenny's long-time Fine Gael comrades have noticed a marked change.

The old Kenny bonhomie gave way to a distinct reserve and, unlike many predecessors in the office of Taoiseach, there was no "kitchen cabinet" within the ministerial team. Finance Minister Michael Noonan is, however, something of an exception.

The 71-year-old Limerick veteran, is the economic anchor of this administration and hero of all Fine Gael rank and file. The pair have never been close, and in fact were for some years at loggerheads, but their political alliance of convenience is enhanced by Kenny's respect for Noonan's political judgment.

Thus, it was not unduly surprising to hear yesterday that Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, may not be dropped from Cabinet after all. The North Kerry Fine Gael stalwart's survival is, in part at least, being credited to the intercession of Michael Noonan.

That would again not be unduly surprising as the link between Noonan and Deenihan goes back quite some way. In fact Michael Noonan originally comes from Loughill on the Shannon Estuary and technically in Co Limerick, but literally a stone's throw from Co Kerry and Deenihan's long-time Dail constituency.

Deenihan, a five times All Ireland senior football medal winner with Kerry, arrived as a Senator at Leinster House in 1983 some two years after Noonan's first election to the Dail. After Deenihan's election to the Dail in 1987, he backed John Bruton and was rewarded with a junior ministry in the 1994-1997 Rainbow Coalition.

But Deenihan strongly backed Noonan in a heave against Bruton as party leader in January 2001, and in the subsequent leadership election in which one Enda Kenny lost to Noonan. At the time Deenihan did not make Noonan's front-bench team as he became a special adviser on Northern Ireland, tasked with contacting GAA players north of the border.

Ever a reliable vote-getter, Deenihan survived Michael Noonan's Fine Gael electoral meltdown of May 2002. He crucially remained loyal to Kenny in the botched leadership heave of June 2010 and was appointed to Cabinet nine months later.

The idea of intervention by a Finance Minister on behalf of another ministerial colleague is not without precedent. In June 2002 then-Finance Minister, Charlie McCreevy, intervened successfully to ensure Michael Smith of Tipperary was not dropped from Bertie Ahern's cabinet.

The success of this and other devices to save the cabinet seat of Jimmy Deenihan will be known very soon now.

Irish Independent

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