herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Enda and Joan will have to wield their knives with care

The Enda and Joan era is about to begin with a bang.

Today Kenny and Burton are holed up in Government Buildings for their first face-to-face discussions on the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle.

Over the next day or two, the Taoiseach and his new Tanaiste will unveil the team that they hope can secure re-election in around 18 months' time.

Both leaders have tough choices to make. As well as reshuffling the deck, they must throw a few cards away and deal themselves new ones - bearing in mind that every person promoted leaves at least two bitterly disappointed others cursing them in the wings.

Only a small handful of ministers know for certain that they will be staying put. Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin's double act at the Department of Finance is regarded as untouchable. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Children's Minister Charlie Flanagan are barely a wet month in their jobs, so cannot be moved.

After that, everything is up for grabs. Joan Burton (left) has plenty of room for manoeuvre, since Eamon Gilmore will be going to either Brussels or the backbenches and Ruairi Quinn walked off the pitch last week.

The new Labour leader may have to sack Pat Rabbitte, but this is not exactly a task that will cause her many sleepless nights.

One of Burton's trickier decisions is what to do with her defeated leadership rival Alex White.

His poor vote of 23pc means that she owes him nothing, but it might still be wise to put the barrister in cabinet anyway for the sake of party unity.

On the other hand, Alan Kelly's sweeping victory in the deputy leadership contest makes him a dead cert for the top table. Burton will want to have at least one more woman there too, probably Kathleen Lynch.

An intriguing rumour doing the rounds is that radical Trinity lawyer Ivana Bacik could be appointed straight from the Seanad - which would certainly help Labour to get rid of the 'grumpy old men' image it developed under Eamon Gilmore.

On the Fine Gael side, Enda Kenny is likely to be more conservative. He will almost certainly have to take James Reilly out of the Department of Health, but may soften the blow by offering his hapless deputy leader another job.

When it comes to choosing a new health minister, the Taoiseach can go in one of two completely different directions.

He may pass this poisoned chalice to Leo Varadkar, the highly ambitious GP with a strong streak of independence.

ambitions

More likely, Kenny will give the gig to his old leadership challenger Richard Bruton, a safe pair of hands whose ambitions are probably behind him.

Bruton's current jobs portfolio is also the subject of intense speculation right now. Labour are sending strong signals that they want it, in order to give them more influence over the coalition's economic policy.

If Joan Burton can secure this prize, possibly in exchange for Phil Hogan becoming Ireland's new EU Commissioner, it will be a sign that the new Tanaiste is prepared to play hardball.

Margaret Thatcher once said that a good leader knows how to carve the turkey. Enda and Joan must wield the knife carefully this week - or else their government will look like a bunch of turkeys long before Christmas.

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