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Surprise as Foley gets the call ahead of Byrne



Rarely does the appointment of a new Cabinet happen without one or two surprises – but Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar made a series of shock moves last night that left many TDs in their respective parties reeling.

Martin’s decision to appoint first-time deputy Norma Foley as Minister for Education came at the expense of Thomas Byrne, who has been the Fianna Fail education spokesman for the past four years and an ultra Martin loyalist. Foley, who was elected to the Dail for Kerry in February, had been quietly tipped by many in the party in recent weeks, but not necessarily for a role as a senior as Education. She is the only woman appointed to Cabinet by Martin, with Anne Rabbitte, who was part of the talks team, losing out.

Deputy leader Dara Calleary’s appointment as Chief Whip was also a shock, including perhaps to the Mayo TD himself who would have expected a full Cabinet post having led the party’s negotiating team.

“People are furious about it,” said one TD last night. “A snub.”

The decision to make Stephen Donnelly Minister for Health has also gone down badly among longer-serving deputies who will note that the Wicklow TD was an Independent TD five years ago and in the Social Democrats as recently as 2016. But Donnelly’s command of the health portfolio and shadowing of Simon Harris for the last few years has impressed Martin, who is himself a former minister in that department.

Martin appears in many of his appointments to have opted for ability over loyalty to him and service to the party, although his exclusion of the highly capable Jim O’Callaghan appears to have been partly a result of the increasing tension between the pair since the General Election.

There was also some surprise that the new Department of Higher Education was given to Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, given it was a Fianna Fail initiative to establish the portfolio at Cabinet level in the first place. Fine Gael and the Greens are thought to have vetoed the idea that Fianna Fail would hold both the Education and Higher Education briefs.

There was a mood of shock and no small amount of anger among Fianna Fail TDs last night, many of them leaving the Convention Centre before the evening Dail session, at which Martin confirmed the make-up of the new Cabinet, had concluded. Some Fine Gael TDs were delighted at the turmoil unfolding among their new coalition ”friends”.

But the turnover of Fine Gael ministers was also dramatic and will not be without consequences in the coming months with Charlie Flanagan, Michael Creed, Michael Ring and Eoghan Murphy all seemingly consigned to the backbenches.

Richard Bruton may have saved the coalition talks in recent weeks by hammering out the detail of the new Government’s radical climate action agenda, but there was no room for him at the top table. Typical of the affable Fine Gael grandee, Bruton bowed out gracefully in a tweet where he noted he served under four taoisigh – Garret FitzGerald, John Bruton, Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar.

Joe McHugh and Josepha Madigan were also demoted, but are said to be in line for junior ministries next week.

Heather Humphreys will be delighted to land a weighty Social Protection and Rural Affairs brief, while Hildegarde Naughten’s appointment as a super junior minister in the new Climate Action and Transport department is with a view to keep tabs on Eamon Ryan’s green agenda.

The surprise move by new Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was making Helen McEntee the Minister for Justice. Her main challenge will be attempting to abolish direct provision in the lifetime of this new Government – a task many in Fine Gael believe is not achievable but is a key demand of the Green Party.

For the Greens, the only surprise was the appointment of Senator Pippa Hackett as a super junior minister in the Department of Agriculture. The former Offaly councillor played a prominent role in the agriculture module of the government talks and will push for the implementation of reforms that won’t necessarily please farmers. Expect a few rows with Barry Cowen, the new Fianna Fail Agriculture Minister.

Sunday Independent

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