A reshuffle of the Dublin government’s Ministerial cabinet has brought to an end to the influence of ‘Stickies’ in Irish politics and introduced a number of new faces in an attempt to bolster the coalition’s poll ratings.
Announced after days of negotiations between Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and newly appointed Labour leader Joan Burton, the deal saw three government heavyweights ousted from their posts.
One unexpected change in the bid to ensure the government makes it to the end of its term saw Transport Minister Leo Varadkar take over the key role of Minister for Health. The previous incumbent, James Reilly, was demoted to the junior post of Minister for Children and Public Health.
“The objective of government should always be to create the conditions and supports to allow families to thrive, prosper and reach their full potential,” said Enda Kenny, in his statements to the media.
He said “a plan to make work pay” would be a key feature of the new cabinet’s economic policy, understood to mean a possible tax break for high and middle income earners. “Fairness and job creation will go hand in hand. Everyone must have the opportunity to work and live their lives at home.”
In another surprise move, Charlie Flanagan was promoted to Minister for Foreign Affairs just weeks after joining the cabinet, a rapid ascension for the former backbencher from County Laois.
Other key changes include Paschal Donohoe’s promotion as Minister for Transport and the relatively unknown TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys heading up the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht. Her predecessor Jimmy Deenihan is demoted but given a new junior role with responsibility for issues related to the Irish diaspora.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is to additionally take on the Defence portfolio, which had been in limbo since the departure of Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Major changes also took place in the Labour ranks.
Jan O’Sullivan, formerly a junior minister, moves to head the Department of Education while the party’s recently-appointed deputy leader Alan Kelly is also promoted, taking up the role of Environment Minister. Mr Kelly replaces Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan, who stands down and is being put forward for a European Commissioner role.
Alex White, who put up an ultimately weak challenge to Ms Burton for the Labour leadership, takes the Communications role vacated by Pat Rabbitte.
A new “super junior” ministerial position has also been created with Ged Nash, a Labour TD from Louth, entering the ministerial ranks with a business and employment role.
Rabbitte’s departure has finally brought an end to any role in government of former members of Democratic Left, the small left-wing party which formed from Official Sinn Fein via the Workers’ Party. Known as the ‘Stickies’ and long-standing rivals to Provisional Sinn Fein from which they split in 1970, they once dominated RTE, the state broadcaster, and later overwhelmed the Labour Party, with which they merged in 1999.
However, despite the change in line-up, there was little sign of a change in political direction by either of the coalition parties.
Joan Burton, who took over as Labour leader from Eamon Gilmore following his resignation late last month, said a policy document to be published soon on the future work of the government would deliver “social recovery”, to accompany the claimed economic revival.
“The social recovery starts with jobs, because secure work is the single best protection against poverty,” she said.
“This vital window of opportunity must not be lost, because the people of this country suffered hugely as a result of a crisis they did not cause, endured while this Government implemented the necessary policies to end it, and now must feel the benefits of the recovery in their lives.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said although faces had changed at the Cabinet, there was no difference in direction.
“All the evidence is that very little will change because of this reshuffle,” he said.
“It’s a bit like cosmetic surgery, except nothing major has changed. The public want a new direction, not just new faces.”
Mr Martin said the coalition was unpopular not because of having to make tough decisions, but because so many of the decisions have been unfair.
“All we have been offered is a few soundbites intended to resurrect the political and electoral fortunes of Fine Gael and Labour but which reveal the decision to double-down on the policies of the last three and a half years,” he added.
“It is changing some of the faces, but the core strategy, the core unfairness, the core reality of spin and broken promises, remains unchanged.”
Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader, said the coalition had not delivered on the democratic changes promised after the 2011 election.
“For struggling families a cabinet re-shuffle is of no consequence unless it can bring positive change to their daily lives,” Mr Adams told the Taoiseach.
“The new Cabinet you have announced is no different in political outlook or approach from the outgoing Cabinet.
“It in turn was no different from its Fianna Fáil predecessors. And that has been the tragic record of politics in this state for decades.
“Three years ago your rhetoric was all about a democratic revolution. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Instead this Government has broken one election promise after another...So instead of reshuffling your Cabinet, you should give the people their say. You should call a General Election.”