Only three new faces appeared in the Dublin Cabinet yesterday as Bertie Ahern carried out a long delayed reshuffle designed to refresh his coalition government’s image before the next General Election in the 26 Counties.
The most controversial move was that of the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the fiscally conservative Progressive Democrats, Mary Harney, who has taken over the Department Health.
The Opposition parties quickly dismissed the changes as cosmetic, with most ministers simply swapping departments with their collegaues.
The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, described the new Cabinet is a “political mouse”, Speaking after Mr Ahern announced his new line-up, Mr Kenny said he wanted to “nail the lie that this is a new Government”.
Despite the “pomp and circumstance” of the day, “any change is just cosmetic, a cheap veneer. The Taoiseach is reshuffling his deck in the hope that he can play a better hand at the next election.”
Speaking during the debate on the Cabinet Reshuffle, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghin O Caolain TD said: “This is still the same Fianna Fail/PD Government that has been in office for seven long years.
“This has been the longest drawn out Cabinet reshuffle in history. It has been a summer-long effort on the part of this Government to take the focus off the miserable failure of its policies and to fill the media with endless speculation about who will be in and who will be out.”
The other major moves were that of Brian Cowen, who has moved to the Department of Finance, while Dermot Ahern has taken his post as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
In a clear rebuff for the outgoing Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan has been moved to the post of Minister for Social and Family Affairs yesterday.
Mr Brennan’s effective demotion came after at least two meetings with the Taoiseach on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, where he defended his case that he should remain in Cabinet.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr O’Donoghue, denied reports that he was disappointed he was not moved, as had been expected, to a more significant Department.
Two of the three new Cabinet Ministers have been allocated relatively major portfolios. Wicklow-based Dick Roche becomes Minister for the Environment, while Dun Laoghaire TD Mary Hanafin becomes Minister for Education. The third new Minister is Limerick man WIllie O’Dea, who becomes Minister for Defence.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr O’Donoghue, last night denied reports that he was disappointed he was not moved, as had been expected, to a more significant Department.
The new Ministers replace Mr Charlie McCreevy who has become Ireland’s next EU Commissioner, Mr Joe Walsh, who announced his retirement some time ago, and Mr Michael Smith, who was effectively dropped from Cabinet as expected.
The Taoiseach appointed five new Ministers of State: Sean Power (Kildare North), Conor Lenihan (Dublin South West), Batt O’Keeffe (Cork North Central), Tony Killeen (Clare) and Mr Brendan Smith (Cavan/Monaghan). He dropped just one - Donegal’s Dr Jim McDaid.
New Cabinet: Ministers and portfolios
Taoiseach: Bertie Ahern
Tanaiste and Health: Mary Harney
Finance: Brian Cowen
Foreign Affairs: Dermot Ahern
Social, Community & Family Affairs: Seamus Brennan
Enterprise, Trade & Employment: Micheal Martin
Agriculture: Mary Coughlan
Justice: Michael McDowell
Education: Mary Hanafin
Arts, Sport & Tourism: John O’Donoghue
Community, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs: Eamon O Cuiv
Defence: Willie O’Dea
Communications, Marine & Natural Resources: Noel Dempsey
Transport: Martin Cullen
Environment: Dick Roche
Chief Whip: Tom Kitt
Attorney General: Rory Brady