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Newly appointed Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary arriving at Dublin Castle Dublin for a cabinet meeting yesterday.
Newly appointed Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary arriving at Dublin Castle Dublin for a cabinet meeting yesterday.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Mayo councillors hail Dara Calleary appointment as 'positive' step after initial Cabinet snub

Yesterday the Taoiseach announced that Calleary would take over from Barry Cowen as agriculture minister.
Jul 16th 2020, 6:00 AM 10,967 20

IN MAYO, THE mood was buoyant yesterday after it was confirmed that Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary would take up the vacated post of agriculture minister – a silver lining of sorts for the party’s western branches after a disastrous start to Micheál Martin’s tenure. 

Yesterday, the taoiseach announced that Calleary would take over from Barry Cowen, who was fired over the drink-driving row that has dominated headlines in recent days. 

‘Delight’ was the watchword for Fianna Fáil councillors who spoke to TheJournal.ie, even as they played down the damage Martin’s initial snub had caused to internal party relations. 

The decision to appoint Calleary – who was heavily involved in negotiating the programme for government – as Chief Whip has been seen as an embarrassing error on the part of Martin. The move prompted severe criticism of the geographic spread of the new Cabinet, with many questioning the lack of ministers drawn from the west of the country. 

That anger was best captured by an editorial in the Western People newspaper, which labelled the new government a ‘Cabinet fit for Cromwell’

Now, western politicians seemed somewhat pacified. “The west is wide awake this morning,” Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath told the Dáil. 

Mayo councillor Sean Carey acknowledged that the appointment of Calleary had “repaired a lot of the damage”.

“Dara was so deserving of a full ministerial portfolio,” he said. 

As the row unfolded several weeks ago, the chair of Ballina Fianna Fáil Matt Farrell warned that Martin “need not show his nose in Mayo”. 

However, Carey suggested that such feelings weren’t widespread. ”The majority of people I’ve been in contact were disappointed. But they were always going to welcome the leader of Fianna Fáil. And more so now, we’ll welcome him with open arms.”

Another local Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Smyth said that he was “disappointed” for Cowen, but warmly welcomed the appointment. 

“It certainly addresses the imbalance in some way. We’ll wait and see how things will play out in the [National] Development Plan. It’s a positive step.”

Agriculture, he said, was the perfect platform for Calleary to represent farmers and rural businesses in the west of the country. 

Representation

In the wake of the initial fall-out, some figures questioned the idea that the west has consistently been neglected. 

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne examined every Cabinet since 1922 to determine that Mayo, excluding Cork and Dublin, has been the best represented county at Cabinet. 

Byrne congratulated Calleary and said that he felt sorry for Cowen. But he stressed that all the new appointments announced yesterday were made on the basis of “ability”. 

“We should be appointing ministers on the basis of their ability, not geographical location and I know Dara Calleary has been appointed on the basis of ability.”

2043 Cabinet Meetings The appointment of Dara Calleary caps a torrid few days for Micheál Martin's government. Source: Sam Boal

Yesterday, other politicians sounded a warning about the obsession with geography and ministerial portfolios. “There is no such thing as a Minister for the west. I accept there is a region that feels very disenfranchised. The key issue is that ministers are for all of the country,” Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said in the Dáil.

“The gain will be seen in the west, but it will be seen as an expense to the midlands,” she said. “There is something very wrong with our politics when that’s how it’s perceived.”

Yet outside observers say the resentments caused by the row are unlikely to go away. 

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“They’ll quiet down in the west a bit, but I think there’ll be a residual bitterness in Fianna Fáil in the west that their man was overlooked, never mind his belated promotion,” said Gary Murphy, the Associate Professor of Politics at Dublin City University. 

Added to that the potential complaint from the midlands about the loss of the Offaly TD Cowen’s Cabinet spot and it’s all really a “vicious cycle”, Murphy said. 

“The excuse, so called, for not promoting Dara Calleary because he needed an experienced chief whip in a coalition government is out of the window,” Murphy said. “Three weeks later, there are a lot of political questions for Micheál Martin to answer.”

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Dominic McGrath

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