02 Jul 2022

Comment: Flanagan waiting for his turn

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What must Charlie Flanagan do to secure a ministerial post?

What must Charlie Flanagan do to secure a ministerial post?

The Laois-Offaly Fine Gael TD has been bypassed again for advancement following the resignation of Minister of State Lucinda Creighton. He remains Chairman of the parliamentary party, a pivotal post, and is probably required there from a party point of view.

But there is no doubt that, by now, he should have achieved ministerial rank.

That is not to take, in any way, from the appointment of Dublin TD Paschal Donohoe to replace Ms Creighton. He is an able and capable TD who will do a good job.

Mr Flanagan earned his spurs long before the recent vacancy.

However, he made a serious error, in political terms. He backed the wrong horse when Enda Kenny’s leadership was challenged by a group of TDs promoting Richard Bruton. And he has paid the price.

There were others who opted for the Bruton camp and are in ministerial posts. Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Brian Hayes and Fergus O’Dowd come to mind.

And, of course, Ms Creighton. She was arguably the most outspoken critic of Mr Kenny. Yet she received the prized post of Minister of State for European Affairs, a job, by the way, where it is hard not to shine.

Foreign Affairs has no legislative burden, no economic dimension.

It is just a case of doing your job competently, keeping your nose clean, and working to the brief. Contrast that with the hapless lot of Ministers in Departments like Finance, Health and Agriculture.

As for Mr Flanagan, he is around long enough now to do a competent job in any Department.

He has held senior posts in Opposition, he was Chief Whip, and he has been politically blooded by the experience of losing his seat and winning it back.

The Government could also do with his presence. Experience and ability count. In fact, the ideal blend in any ministerial line-up would be somebody like Mr Flanagan, around for years, and somebody like Mr Donohoe, inexperienced but politically wise and able.

Why does Mr Flanagan apparently remain among the unforgiven as far as the Taoiseach is concerned? It is an intriguing question. Others, arguably of lesser ability, have been forgiven.

There was a need for total forgiveness in the case of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan. It is easily forgotten now that when Mr Noonan won the party leadership he sent Mr Kenny, a defeated candidate, to the backbenches.

It was a political humiliation of huge dimensions.

Yet, in the aftermath of the Bruton heave, Mr Kenny needed Mr Noonan for the Finance portfolio.

And Mr Noonan was glad to be back on the frontline of politics. It was a political marriage of convenience.

But he did not necessarily need any of the others who had lined up behind Mr Bruton.

Naturally, he did not want to leave a rump of Brutonites on the backbenches, and he required the usual geographical and gender mix. In that context, Mr Flanagan had a very strong case for promotion.

The geographical argument was compelling. Laois-Offaly was the Cabinet domain of Brian Cowen for several years.

He served in a number of Ministries before becoming Taoiseach. The new defunct Progressive Democrats had a Minister of State, Tom Parlon. Surely, with that history, Fine Gael’s hour had come. And Mr Flanagan was the obvious choice.

There could well be another reason for the fact that Mr Flanagan is not a Minister. He is doing a very good job indeed as parliamentary party Chairman. In that respect, he could be a victim of his own success.

Although this Government has a huge majority, there are inevitably party tensions, given that it is ruling at a tough time. Hence Mr Kenny needs a party Chairman with clout and experience.

And Mr Flanagan is, above all, streetwise, a necessary requirement when dealing with a large parliamentary party. He is probably, at this time, the best person for the job. And Mr Kenny knows that.

So, is it a case that, for the moment, he is required in that job and that his ministerial advancement will come in time?

Right now, Mr Flanagan remains the big loser in the ministerial stakes.

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