03 Jul 2022

Political Notebook: Taoiseach not keeping score anymore

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We know, for some time, that there are going to be no ministerial score cards.

We know, for some time, that there are going to be no ministerial score cards.

And, now, we know there will be no ministerial reshuffle this year.

Remember the score cards? In Opposition, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said he would monitor the progress of his Ministers. He would mark their performances on cards.

That was the rhetoric of Opposition. It was a little like Eamon Gilmore saying that it would be Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way.

There was considerable speculation that there would be a Cabinet reshuffle at the end of this year. Expectations were raised on the Government backbenches. Some Ministers became a little nervous.

Anyway, Mr Kenny has said, in no uncertain terms, that there will be no Cabinet reshuffle come the end of the year.

Ministers are too busy, you see.

There was relief no doubt on the Ministerial benches. There was disappointment, but perhaps not that much surprise in some ways, on the backbenches.

Mr Kenny has moved early in this critical year for the Government to dampen any expectations of a reshuffle.

The jockeying for Cabinet position, for now, is over.

The question now is: will there be any significant reshuffle in the lifetime of this Government?

Perhaps not. Much will depend on how Fine Gael and Labour perform in the opinion polls.

In the meantime, there is a ministerial vacancy at junior level.

The tragic death of Shane McEntee before Christmas stunned the political world. It was a tragedy beyond comprehension and removed a good, caring and committed man from politics and from his family.

He was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture. That job has now to be filled.

So who is in the running?

Most ministerial appointments are made on the basis of loyalty to the leader and geography. Sometimes ability might be involved.

Hence, when Mr Kenny took over as Taoiseach, most of those given ministerial preferment were loyalists who had supported him in the abortive Richard Bruton-led heave.

Some of those from the Bruton camp were brought on board just to show the right level of forgiveness. Also, it is good to have some of your political enemies inside the tent rather than getting up to mischief outside.

Mr Kenny is well established as Taoiseach.His leadership position is unassailable. He will lead Fine Gael into the next general election.

He will probably be looking at senior and experienced people rather than any of the newcomers to fill the vacancy in Agriculture House.

He may look to Meath, Mr McEntee’s county, and consider somebody like Damien English.

Or he may look to Wicklow and Andrew Doyle, Kildare and Bernard Durkan, Cork and David Stanton, Roscommon and Frank Feighan.

There is an obvious choice: Fine Gael parliamentary party Chairman Charles Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan would today be Minister for Justice except that he fought on the other side, so to speak, in the Fine Gael Civil War.

He has been an able Chairman of the parliamentary party. And he is a politician of considerable ability and, crucially at this stage, of vast experience.

Mr Flanagan is around a long time. He comes from the formidable Flanagan dynasty.

Mr Kenny could do with his political counsel in these hazardous times. And Mr Flanagan could be relied on to do a good job in the Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture is important to the Laois-Offaly constituency. In the past, it elected a former President of the IFA, Tom Parlon, as a PD deputy.

Mr Flanagan ticks all the boxes for advancement. And he has more than served his time in the relative political wilderness for supporting Mr Bruton in the heave against Mr Kenny.

The reality of Irish politics is that there is no great tradition of reshuffles. Unlike Britain, where Ministers who might be prone to excessive gaffes or not measuring up, are sometimes dropped, office-holders survive in Ireland unless they become embroiled in controversy to a degree that their position is untenable.

Sometimes, although very rarely, there is a ministerial resignation in Ireland on the grounds of principle.

Wille Penrose and Roisin Shortall handed in their notices and caused shock because they did not agree with Government policy.

Mr Penrose had the temerity to say that a solemn promise made by him and his party leader, Eamon Gilmore, in Mullingar, that the local barracks be retained, should be honoured.

All kinds of motives were attributed to Mr Penrose for walking away from a handsome salary and, ultimately, an enhanced pension.

Likewise with Ms Shortall, who had the temerity, God help us, to say in no uncertain terms that Labour should honour its election commitments in Government.

Backbenchers will know, after the Agriculture job is filled, that they will have to put the head down and defend unpopular decisions with no prospect of promotion for now.

There might be ministerial advancement in 2014. Or there might not.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture job should go to Mr Flanagan.

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