After months of political stasis, the new Taoiseach is keen to give an impression of a dynamic and fast-moving Government. The new Cabinet met on Saturday, many Ministers met their new senior officials yesterday (Sunday), and the Cabinet meets again today (Monday). The impression is of urgency and speed.
To portray an image of a new, fresh government after all this time, it is also not surprising that the three party leaders have gone for some unexpected appointments. So, the Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach has promoted first time Kerry TD Norma Foley to Education, and a man who divides opinion in the party, Stephen Donnelly, to Health. Mr Martin has disappointed one of his closest colleagues Dara Calleary by “only” making him a Minister of State, and also left out party heavyweight Jim O’Callaghan.
The Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has moved junior Minister Helen McEntee into the most sensitive job of Justice. He had a series of rapid meetings on Saturday with Richard Bruton, Michael Creed, Charlie Flanagan, Joe McHugh and Josepha Madigan to tell them that they were no longer Ministers. Eamon Ryan overlooked his TDs to appoint Senator Pippa Hackett as a junior minister.
The new Government now seeks to work towards medium term goals while dealing with an immediate crisis. The Covid 19 pandemic provides a continuing public health crisis, as the experts watch nervously to see what effect the easing of restrictions will have. The Ministers for Finance, Public Expenditure and Jobs must immediately work together to finalise and implement business recovery programmes. A “July stimulus” is planned. July starts this week.
The medium-term ambition looks equally daunting. The new Government has pledged commitment to affordable housing and to universal healthcare. It will borrow heavily while seeking to ensure the budget deficit does not go out of control. It faces record unemployment, a desire to cut Covid 19 payments to workers and subsidies to employers. Then there are the ongoing Brexit talks and hugely ambitious emissions reduction targets.
The leaders of the two main parties need to get over their well-known poor relationship. In that regard the relationship between the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath will be crucial. Both are pragmatic people with fewer populist instincts than average. As tensions arise between the parties and individual Ministers, the good relationship between the two people who control the national finances will be very important.
Here we give an initial assessment of the Ministers in the Cabinet just appointed, and the three “super-junior” ministers. The full shape of the Government will emerge in the coming days as up to 17 further Ministers of State are appointed to various departments.
A politician for almost all his adult life, he has led his party through nine difficult Opposition years to get to this place. He has an agreed two and a half years as Taoiseach, and after that there must be a serious question mark over whether he continues to lead his party.
He turns 60 on August 1st next, and was first elected to the Dáil aged 28 in 1989. From Turners Cross in Cork, he obtaining a BA and later am MA in Political History from UCC. He was a secondary school teacher before becoming a full-time politician. He was Lord Mayor of Cork between 1992-1993.
He spent 14 unbroken years in Cabinet from 1997 to 2011, serving as Minister for Education, for Health, for Enterprise Trade and Employment and for Foreign Affairs. He can point to various achievements such as the introduction of special needs assistants in schools, the introduction of a blanket ban on smoking in the workplace, making Ireland the first country to do so, and the establishment of the HSE.
In January 2011 Martin was elected as leader of Fianna Fáil following the resignation of Brian Cowen. The party performed poorly in the General Election that took place almost immediately afterwards. In 2016 the party entered into a confidence-and-supply deal with a Fine Gael-led minority government supported by Independents. He has managed the difficult feat of bringing his party through that period to a position where they will lead the first ever coalition with Fine Gael, before handing leadership over to that party in December 2022.
Tanaiste, and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Taoiseach from 2017 to this weekend, the timing of the recent General Election may well have been unfortunate for him. He earned great kudos for the handling of the long Brexit process, and for handling of the pandemic. The election, however, took places in the gap between these two events.
He has three years as Taoiseach and a further six years in Cabinet behind him, and is still only 41. He is due to become Taoiseach again at the end of December 2022. But politics is uncertain. In the meantime, he has taken on a senior economic portfolio which gives him a key role in handling the recovery from Covid 19 and the positioning of Ireland to deal with the final shape of Brexit.
From Castleknock in West Dublin, he qualified as a doctor before going into politics. He was elected to Fingal County Council in 2004 at the age of 25. He was first elected to the Dáil in 2007. When his party entered government in 2011 Varadkar became Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport and in 2014 he became Minister for Health. In 2016 he was appointed Minister for Social Protection, seen as something of a demotion after he had agitated to get out of Health.
But when he became Fine Gael leader in June 2017, he also became Ireland’s youngest-ever Taoiseach. He won that election even though Simon Coveney won the vote among party members. Party TDs and Senators preferred Varadkar because of a belief that he would be more likely to bring electoral success. They may not be so sure now.
During his relatively short time as Taoiseach he led the country through the Brexit and Covid-19 crises, as well taking leadership of campaigns in a number of socially progressive referendums.
Minister for Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport
Dublin Bay South
The caricature of Ryan is of a soft-spoken soft-focussed Green politician, prone to occasional eccentric flourishes about the benefits of growing lettuce during a pandemic. The reality is that he a very experienced politician, a former Minister in a very challenging brief, a man who brought his Party back from the dead and finally who led a diverse party to negotiate and then h4ly support a Programme for Government deal with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Over the coming months the leadership challenge to him from his deputy leader Catherine Martin is likely to play out, and he is expected to win.
From Dundrum in Dublin, he is a UCD Commerce graduate and subsequently managed the University’s Marketing Development Programme. He then founded Irish Cycling Safaris, a cycling tourism company, earning the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and was the founding chairperson of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
He was co-opted on to Dublin City Council in 1998 and was elected to it the following year. He was first elected to the Dáil in 2002 for the Dublin South constituency.
Following the 2007 General Election, the Green Party entered government with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and Ryan was appointed Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. During his tenure he implemented significant measures to further the country’s use of renewable energy sources and oversaw the completion of the National Broadband Scheme.
The Green Party withdrew from government in January 2011. All six Green Party TDs including Ryan lose their seats in the General Election the following month. He was appointed Leader of the Green Party in May of the same year. He chose to remain in politics, rebuilding his party, getting himself and Catherine Martin elected in 2016, and coming back with 12 TDs earlier this year.
Minster for Finance
Donohoe now becomes an even more pivotal Government figure following the division of his old Department into Finance (which Donohoe retains) and Public Expenditure and Reform (which goes to Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath). These two roles are two halves of the central governmental role of managing the national finances. How these two men, and their two departments, relate to each other is crucial to ensure the government remains stable.
The good news is that both are calm, measured people with high regard for each other and a good relationship.
Paschal Donohoe (45) has been Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure since 2017, having previously held the positions of Public Expenditure alone, Tourism and Transport and European Affairs. From Phibsborough in Dublin, Paschal Donohoe he studied Politics and Economics at Trinity College Dublin. He was elected to Dublin City Council in 2004 and to the Dáil in 2007.
During his tenure as Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure & Reform he has presided over difficult Budgets in the face of the challenge posed by Brexit. He is an avid reader, interested in ideas, and keen to engage with those outside the political bubble on political issues.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
Like his constituency colleague Mícheál Martin, Michael McGrath has had a long and patient wait in Opposition as spokesperson on finance for nine years.
In that role he earned criticism from within his party which may now turn out to be a strength for the government. He was always reluctant to take on the “rottweiler” style of political opposition by attacking the government at every opportunity. Instead he took a measured approach, supporting elements of government worth supporting in his view, and being and considered in how he expressed criticism. At Oireachtas Committees his performance was striking for its courtesy towards those treated by others as hostile witnesses. Many in the party felt that this denied Fianna Fáil the prospect of much press coverage, which they believe was ceded to noisier opposition spokespersons.
However now, the good relationship between him in Public Expenditure and Paschal Donohoe in Finance is seen as providing a crucial “glue” in the new administration. This is all the more so when the relationship between their respective party leaders has been characterised by many personalised and disparaging remarks.
From Passage West in Cork, Michael McGrath studied Commerce at University College Cork and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG. He worked in the public and private sectors before entering politics, including roles at Cork’s Red FM radio station and UCC. He was first elected to the Dáil in 2007.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence
He and Paschal Donohoe are the two most powerful figures in Fine Gael apart from the party leader. When he ran against Leo Varadkar for the leadership in 2017, Coveney win the vote among party members, but lost out because of the higher weighting given to parliamentary party votes.
He has been a star government performer, handling the lengthy Brexit process, and the associated tensions with Westminster and Northern Ireland politicians with assuredness. He is from a very prosperous Cork business family. He has a B.Sc. in Agriculture and Land Management from The Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire. He also studied at University College Cork and Gurteen Agricultural College, County Tipperary.
He has been a career politician, being first elected to the Dáil in a 1998 by-election caused by the death of his father, the late Hugh Coveney. He also served for three years as an MEP, being elected to the European Parliament in 2004. He has been Minister for Agriculture and Defence, and for Housing, Planning and Local Government before his current role. His portfolio has been varied somewhat this time: He was Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade during the last Government, and is now Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence.
Minister for Agriculture and Marine
Another key member of Mícháel Martin’s core team, Cowen was a key figure in negotiating the confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael in 2016. He is from Clara in Offaly and an auctioneer and valuer before entering politics. He was first elected to the Dáil, succeeding his brother the former Taoiseach Brian, who in turn had succeeded his father Bernard (Ber).
He has a robust and combative style. As an opposition TD he has held roles as Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Social Protection; Environment & Local Government; and most recently on Public Expenditure & Reform.
Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science
Once it became clear that Fianna Fáil was taking the Health portfolio, Harris had to move from the post he has held for four years. Before the pandemic, he was seen as vulnerable to being dropped. However, his high-profile public role in explaining and reassuring around Covid 19 seems to have saved him. He has ended up in a new portfolio, originally proposed by Fianna Fáil, splitting responsibility for Higher Education from Education generally.
Still only 33, Simon Harris began his political career aged 21 as an assistant to Frances Fitzgerald when she was a Senator in 2008. In 2009 he was elected to Wicklow County Council and Greystones Town Council. He was first elected as a TD in 2011 and was the youngest member of the Dáil at the time. In 2014 aged 27 he was appointed Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement & International Banking and in 2016 he was appointed Minister for Health.
There, he has been at the centre of major national controversies and debates, as the Minister for Health always is. There was the cervical check controversy, the annual trolley crises, and the apparent lack of a fixed long-term government policy on how to fund the heath service. Because successive governments have failed to adopt a convincing healthcare policy and then to pursue it, the post is therefore seen as the most difficult job in politics, and to escape it from it without a severely damaged political reputation is seen as a major political success.
Minister for Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands
Relatively unknown when appointed to Cabinet in 2014, she is one of Fine Gael’s most experienced Ministers now. She was Minister for Arts and Heritage from 2014-2017, and was appointed Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation in 2017. Once it became clear that Leo Varadkar wanted that job, she had to be moved.
Aged 57 she is from a farming background in Drum in Monaghan. Prior to entering politics she worked as a manager at Cootehill Credit Union. She was co-opted onto Monaghan County Council in 2003 and first elected to the Dáil in 2011.
As Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs from 2014 she was responsible for leading the 1916 Centenary commemorations. As Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation since 2017 she was very involved in Government preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit.
Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht
Her political approach to this government remains unknown. She opposed going into talks but led the negotiating team and urged a Yes vote to the deal. In the course of the last few months she announced a challenge to Eamon Ryan’s position as party leader. Now she and Ryan begin working together as members of the Cabinet.
She joined the Green Party in 2007 and was appointed Deputy Leader in 2011. That year the Green Party lost all its seats in 2011 but she and Ryan were both elected in 2016, thus beginning the revival of the party’s fortunes.
From Carickmacross in Monaghan, Catherine Martin studied at NUI Maynooth before becoming an English and Music teacher. In 2014 she was elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, representing the Dundrum area.
Her husband, Francis Noel Duffy was elected as a Green Party TD in the Dublin South-West constituency in 2020. Her brother Vincent P Martin is a Green Party member of Kildare County Council and has just been appointed to the Seanad as a Taoiseach’s nominee.
Minister for Justice
From Castletown in Meath, the 34-year-old has had four years’ experience as a junior minister, and now finds herself promoted to one of the most challenging jobs in Government. Those who deal with her say she is clear, h4 and calm with huge ability. As Minister of State for European Affairs since 2017 she has had a significant role in detailed Brexit-related negotiations, as well as in publicly representing the Government ‘s position.
She studied Law, Politics & Economics at Dublin City University and later obtained a Masters degree in Journalism and Communications from Griffith College. Before entering politics McEntee worked at the Department of Agriculture. She was first elected to the Dáil via byelection in 2013 following the death of her father, Shane McEntee.
She was Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People in 2016 before becoming Minister of State for European Affairs in 2017.
Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration
Aged 37, O’Gorman is a first time TD and has little national profile but this is likely to change quickly. He has lectured in Government and Law in DCU and specialises in EU and planning law. He is party chairman and very well liked across his party.
From Mulhuddart in Dublin, he obtained his law degree at TCD, a Masters in Law at the London School of Economics and a PhD relating to EU Law at Trinity College in 2011. He has a big interest in and broad knowledge of political policy and was central to the Green Party negotiating team. He is a member of the University’s Brexit Institute.
Having joined the Young Greens during his time at Trinity College, he was elected to Fingal County Council in 2014 and again in 2019. He was first elected to the Dáil in February 2020 after running unsuccessfully in 2016. Having been at the forefront of the party’s campaigns on the same-sex marriage (2015) and repeal of the Eighth Amendment (2018) referendums, he is the Green Party’s Spokesperson on Justice & Equality.
O’Gorman has served on the Boards of Management of five schools and is a member of the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB.
Minister for Health
Elected to the Dáil as an independent in 2011, having earned a profile as an economic commentator in the wake of the economic crash. He joined the new Social Democrats on their foundation in 2015, becoming co-leader with Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy. However, the three found working together difficult, and he left the party just over a year later. A few months after that he joined Fianna Fáil. He was initially Fianna Fáil spokesman n Brexit before becoming health spokesperson in March 2018.
Prior to his involvement in politics he qualified as an engineer from UCD and worked and studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also has a postgraduate degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He worked for a period with McKinsey economic consultants before running for office in 2011.
Minister for Education
She is a first time TD, and her elevation to Cabinet rank is seen as a surprise. She has considerable local political experience having been a member of Kerry County Council for 26 years before her election to the Dáil. She is a secondary school teacher by profession. Her father Denis Foley was a TD for Kerry in the past. He resigned from the party in 2000 when it emerged that he had held an offshore Ansbacher account to avoid tax.
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage
First elected to the Dáil in 2007, he lost his seat in 2011 in that catastrophic election for his party, but regained it in 2016. He worked before as an insurance company executive.
In recent years he has been party spokesman on housing and therefor a high-profile and robust critic of the last government on one of its weak areas. Having been spokesman on housing, he now gets to take up the role of Minister at a time when the shortage and cost of housing remains one of the biggest political issues.
Government Chief Whip
His appointment as Fianna Fáil deputy leader in 2018 marked him out as one of Mícháel Martin’s key inner circle figures. At the same time, he was made the party’s Director of Policy Development. In the recent protracted government-formation negotiations he was a key member of the party’s negotiating team. He was therefore tipped by all as a guaranteed Minister.
So his appointment as Chief Whip is a great surprise. This is of course a key role. But while he sits at Cabinet, he is not a full Minister. The rationale behind this, and a couple of other surprise appointments, may become clearer in coming days.
Calleary is one of those politicians with an easy grasp of policy. He engages frequently with those willing to make a policy case to him, not always agreeing, but always listening with interest. From Ballina, he studied Business and Politics at Trinity College Dublin and worked for a period with Chambers Ireland.
He was elected to the Dáil in 2007, aged 34. His father and grandfather had served as Fianna Fáil Mayo TDs before him. He served as a junior minister from 2009 to 2011.
Minister of State in Dept of Agriculture responsible for Land Use and Biodiversity
From Laois/Offaly but as a Senator is not elected by a geographic constituency
Another surprise appointment, she was elected to the Seanad on the Agricultural panel in a by-election late last year and was re-elected in the recent Seanad. She was an unsuccessful candidate in the recent Dáil election for Laois/Offaly. She lives on a farm in Co Offaly, is a graduate in Equine Science and has a PhD in Sports Biomechanics. She is included here because she is one of three “super junior” Ministers, who attends Cabinet but does not have a vote.
The area of agriculture is one of considerable tension between the two larger government parties and the Green Party. Her appointment signals that while the agriculture portfolio remains with a Fianna Fáil Minister Barry Cowen, there will also be a Green presence within that department and, the party hopes, a Green influence.
Minister of State in Dept of Transport responsible for International and Road Travel and Logistics
She has been a TD since 2016 and before that was a schoolteacher. Her appointment as a “super junior” Minister of State mirrors that of Pippa Hackett. Transport is politically sensitive and so this puts a Fine Gael TD in as a junior minister in a department run by a Green Minister, in the same way as Pippa Hackett is in a sensitive department run by a Fianna Fáil Minister.
Founded in Ireland in 1974, Murray is a leading PR Agency specialising in Public Relations and Strategic Communications.Contact Us