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Here are 9 things you need to know about the Cabinet reshuffle

Analysis: The Cabinet’s female membership is doubled but will Labour rue taking on Environment?

The new Cabinet preparing to enter the Dáil chamber earlier
The new Cabinet preparing to enter the Dáil chamber earlier

AFTER FOUR DAYS of waiting and many, many rumours swirling around Leinster House the Cabinet has been reshuffled with Enda Kenny announcing his changes in the Dáil this afternoon.

Though several ministers are staying put, there are a number on the move and even more dropped from the Cabinet altogether.

Labour has instigated a more radical reshuffle than Fine Gael dropping three ministers to  the senior coalition partner’s two – one of which has been enforced with Phil Hogan’s departure to the EU Commission.

Here’s what you need to know about the changes announced today.

1. Steady hands stay put 

As expected Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin have stayed put in the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure respectively. They are steady hands who have overseen a dramatic economic restructuring in recent years and got the economy growing again. They were never likely to be moved from two of the most important departments in government.

Elsewhere Simon Coveney stays at Agriculture having performed strongly there over the past three years. He takes on Defence from the Taoiseach who himself had taken it on board after Alan Shatter’s departure. There’s no surprise that Shatter’s successor Frances Fitzgerald stays put as she sets about implementing a series of changes at the department.

Joan Burton wants to continue her reforms in Social Protection while Richard Bruton’s steady performance at Jobs ensures he remains despite Labour attempts to wrestle that department from Fine Gael’s control. This underlines the extent to which the Taoiseach is sticking with what he knows works best in some of the most important departments.

2. Leo’s big move 

Leo Varadkar’s move to the Department of Health is a radical one given his propensity to speak his mind without fear of upsetting people. Varadkar will want to set realistic goals which are achievable in the 18 or so months he will have at the department which is famed for its inefficiency and was once likened to Angola – full of land mines.

Will those goals include introducing free GP care to all by 2016? And what of the review team set up to examine the case for granting medical cards on medical need? This is a radical shift in policy that doctors have expressed deep misgivings about. Will Varadkar stay the course with it or shut it down?

Rosie Hackett Bridge Opens Source: Sam Boal

3. Reilly gets a consolation prize

What to do with James Reilly? That was the big headache for Kenny ahead of this reshuffle and to an extent he has found a suitable home for the embattled now-former health minister who has taken on a department vaguely connected with his passion.

Children are a group Reilly is targeting heavily with his anti-smoking campaign and this department will allow him to continue that work. But there is no doubt it is a demotion for the Fine Gael deputy leader who will have to contend with the establishment of the mother and baby homes inquiry that is sure to be lengthy and not without its problems.

4. So Charlie Flanagan gets a promotion 

After barely two months in the Cabinet, the Laois Offaly TD is on the move again with a big promotion to the prestigious Department of Foreign Affairs, which Fine Gael gets in exchange for Environment.

Flanagan was left disappointed when he failed to get any ministry in 2011 so this has been a big few months for him and he’ll relish the significant prestige that comes with this role as he travels abroad to represent Ireland. He’ll also have the not insignificant challenge of the issues in Northern Ireland.

5. Labour didn’t get Jobs, and may rue getting Environment 

Labour Leadership Contests Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Labour has taken the Environment portfolio from Fine Gael with the party’s new deputy leader Alan Kelly taking over from Brussels-bound Phil Hogan. It had wanted the Department of Jobs but FG was not for turning. The consolation for Labour is Gerald Nash becoming a super junior ministry at the department with focus on business and employment.

Getting Environment is, on the face of it, not a big win for the junior coalition party as its minister must now face up to angry householders who’ll be getting their first water bills in the coming months. If Hogan was unpopular among voters how will they react to Kelly?

6. Alex White gets his promotion

He was not as explicit about it as Alan Kelly but there’s no doubt the failed Labour leadership contender wanted a Cabinet spot and he’s got it. White’s move to Communications seems appropriate given his background in broadcasting but he will look to distance himself from the national broadcaster RTÉ where he was once employed to show that he is not subservient to them. Could this make life more difficult for Montrose than it was under Pat Rabbitte?

7. Heather who? 

Few had heard of Heather Humphreys before today but the former backbench Cavan-Monaghan TD now sits at Cabinet as the new Arts Minister. This is a good move geographically for Fine Gael in an area where Sinn Féin is strong, and it also has the added effect of solving Kenny’s woman problem by increasing the number of women at Cabinet.

8. A meteoric rise for Donohoe 

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe has gone from backbencher to full Cabinet minister in a big department – Transport – inside a year with a spell at European Affairs along the way. The Dublin Central TD will face a battle to hold his seat in 2016, but this ministry will give him a good profile as he oversees the Luas Crosscity project in Dublin, among other things.

9. Will Rabbitte go quietly? 

ESB And Vodafone Fibre Broadband Source: Sam Boal

While you would expect Ruairí Quinn and Eamon Gilmore to keep quiet on the backbenches, Pat Rabbitte’s blatant unhappiness with being dropped from Cabinet will manifest itself in some interesting ways. It’s unlikely he will keep schtum in the months ahead given he’s already been out today hitting out at the “20-second” conversation he had with Joan Burton about losing his role.

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Confirmed: Leo Varadkar is the new Health Minister, Pat Rabbitte dropped from Cabinet

 

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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