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Sunday 17 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Come on, Cowen -- show us some spirit with a real reshuffle

BRIAN COWEN is about to put us all out of our misery. At some stage tomorrow afternoon, the Taoiseach will stand up in the Dail and reveal the new Cabinet line-up he intends to take into the next General Election.

It's been one of the most heavily trailed reshuffles in recent history -- but unless it turns out to be far more radical than anyone expects, there's a real danger it could end up as one of the most anti-climactic as well.

If Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney got into trouble for changing a winning team, however, the Taoiseach should appreciate the danger of not changing a losing one.

The Opposition will jeer that he's reshuffling a pack with too many jokers, but that shouldn't stop him taking the best chance he'll ever get to deal himself a better hand. The success or failure of this reshuffle will depend on the answers to two questions. First, has Cowen got the bottle to sack ministers who have clearly become public liabilities, with the two Marys (Harney and Coughlan) being at the top of most people's lists?

Second, has he got the imagination to promote younger TDs such as Dara Calleary, Peter Power, Conor Lenihan and Billy Kelleher, who could help Fianna Fail look like a party with a future as well as a past?

Part of Cowen's problem is that he originally planned to rejig his team later this year but had his hand forced by the resignations of Willie O'Dea and Martin Cullen. His conservative instincts may tell him that two new Cabinet ministers are quite enough for now, with Pat Carey and Tony Killeen being the current favourites -- both decent men, but not ones who are going to set the world on fire.

Even worse, there are clear signs that tomorrow will be about reshuffling departments rather than people. Instead of firing his Tanaiste, Cowen is expected to spare Coughlan's blushes by breaking up the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and giving her a new ministry devoted to trade and tourism only. Another new department of economic planning could well be headed up by Mary Hanafin, whose demotion is now seen as a serious mistake.

As for the Greens, their embarrassing internal spat over rotating ministries has left the junior coalition partners looking more irrelevant than ever.

With John Gormley's secret deal to hand over to Ciaran Cuffe now quietly dropped, the only question is whether Cowen will throw them the bone of a second junior ministry.

If this is all that tomorrow's reshuffle amounts to, it will look like yet another missed opportunity.

In Britain, Gordon Brown is reportedly so desperate to win the upcoming election that he's started cold-calling voters at 6am. That might be a step too far, but at least it shows a certain fighting spirit -- and while Cowen might just be bluffing in advance of a massive shake-up tomorrow, his record suggests that we're likely to end up with cosmetic surgery instead.

Michael McDowell, who recently dropped an intriguing hint that he was thinking of making a comeback, famously said that the PDs had to be "radical or redundant". The exact same principle applies to Brian Cowen now as he prepares to make one of the biggest decisions of his leadership to date.

So come on, Taoiseach -- surprise us.

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