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Saturday 16 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Has incinerator fear left door open for hot head Cuffe to join the Cabinet?

Last July, Green TD Ciaran Cuffe was asked in a Hot Press interview if two years of working with Fianna Fail in government had softened his attitude towards them.

"No, I still think they're gobshites," was his typically diplomatic reply. "I still think they don't understand the issues. I still think they have moved very little."

Now, if the contents of a secret Green Party deal are to be believed, Cuffe is about to get his chance of working with those same gobshites around the Cabinet table.

According to the latest reshuffle rumours swirling around Leinster House, he will replace his party leader John Gormley as Minister for the Environment, honouring an agreement that was made when the FF-Green coalition was formed back in 2007.

Gormley himself will get a new "super" junior ministry for public service reform, while Eamon Ryan will stay put as Minister for Energy and Communications.

This job-rotating scheme is not just a bizarre proposal that is completely without precedent in politics -- it also makes the Greens look as if they have some kind of death wish.

Already reeling from the Deirdre de Burca and Trevor Sargent resignations, they are now on the brink of carrying out a grubby little deal that smacks of the "jobs for the boys" culture they used to complain about so bitterly in opposition.

The idea is such a bad one on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. In a coalition where trust is already so fragile, it makes no sense for one of the party leaders to be absent from the Cabinet table.

Leaving his post early would make Gormley look like he was running away from the awkward issues that have caused him so many problems, in particular his long-running battle with Dublin City Council over the proposed building of a 600,000-tonne incinerator on the Poolbeg peninsula.

Putting Cuffe straight into the Cabinet would also be an extremely risky move. As his Hot Press interview suggested, the Dun Laoghaire TD is one of the party's loosest cannons who wrote on his blog in 2007 that entering coalition with FF would be "a deal with the devil" and has been sniping at them from the sidelines ever since.

The ultra-liberal, who's distantly related to the Kennedy dynasty, has a particularly poisonous relationship with Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, with whom he has locked horns.

Above all, this secret backroom arrangement makes the Greens look like a party more interested in sharing out the spoils of office than making sure that ministers are appointed on strict grounds of merit. As the unseemly row between Mary Harney and Michael McDowell over the PD leadership during the last Dail proved, long-term deals rarely work in politics.

This plan was first hatched in the heady days following the 2007 General Election, when Bertie Ahern was still Taoiseach and the economy looked like it was headed for a soft landing. Everything has changed since then -- and no matter what promises the Greens made between themselves, they should have been allowed to die.

Whatever happens, this whole controversy is likely to play havoc with the timing of Brian Cowen's reshuffle.

Until now, the Taoiseach intended to delay his new appointments until after St Patrick's Day.

That plan may now have to revised, since there is no way the Greens can allow this kind of damaging speculation to drag on for another fortnight or more.

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