By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Reelected Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has appointed five new ministers to his 15-member front bench in the incoming coalition government and said he would not call another election until 2007.
The ministerial changes are not as extensive as expected, but the taoiseach said he would carry out a cabinet reshuffle two years into his term.
He confirmed that had been huge behind-the-scenes lobbying on the composition of his new lineup that had resulted in last-minutes changes.
Politicians and business individuals had fought for the retention of Michael Smith at defense and particularly for veteran West Cork TD Joe Walsh to remain at agriculture.
Walsh had a success last year in the battle against foot-and-mouth disease and there are vital upcoming GATT trade talks and EU farm policy negotiations before Ireland takes over the EU presidency in the first half of 2004.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
“I didn’t change much from where I wanted to go,” Ahern told RTE.
The taoiseach reshaped several government departments in recognition of the “increasing pace of change in needs and priorities in the modern economy,” but the expectation that there would be a night of the long knives with widespread sackings did not materialize.
In the first coalition in Irish history to be returned to power, there are four new senior ministers from Fianna Fail and there is also a new minister for the Progressive Democrats. There was no promotion from the back benches.
A new special junior minister, Dick Roche, who is 55, is being appointed to oversee EU affairs and prepare for the rerun of the Nice treaty vote, probably in October.
Remaining as tanaiste and minister for enterprise, trade and employment is PD leader Mary Harney, 49. The attorney general for the last three years, PD Michael McDowell, 51, becomes minister for justice, equality and law reform.
Unchanged are Brian Cowen, 42 (foreign affairs), Charlie McCreevy, 52 (finance), Michael Smith, 61 (defense), Walsh, 49 (agriculture and food), Micheal Martin, 41 (health).
Switching to education and science is Noel Dempsey, and moving to arts, sport and tourism is John O’Donoghue, 46. Going to a revamped portfolio of communications and natural resources is Dermot Ahern, 47.
New senior ministers are Mary Coughlan, 37, at social and family affairs; Seamus Brennan, 54, at a new transport department to include main roads, traffic, rail bus and aviation; Martin Cullen, 47, at environment and local government, and Eamon O Cuiv, 51, at a revamped community, rural affairs and the Gaeltacht department.
O Cuiv had voted against the Nice treaty last year but the taoiseach indicated he was onside now and would fully back the rerun of the plebiscite. “There is no doubt about that,” he said.
The new chief whip is Mary Hanafin, 42 — the first woman to hold the job — who will also be responsible for coordinating policy on information and communications technologies. Barrister Rory Brady, 45, will be attorney general with membership of the cabinet but no vote.
The ministers axed are Jim McDaid (sports and tourism), Sile De Valera (arts and heritage), Michael Woods (education), and Frank Fahey (fisheries). Another minister, FF deputy leader Mary O’Rourke, lost her seat.
The taoiseach will shortly appoint a further 16 junior ministers.
Ahern, 50, who became the first taoiseach for 33 years elected to a second successive term of office, marks 25 years in the Dail this month. The Dail reelected him by 93 votes, including five independent TDs who supported him. There were 68 votes against.
When the 29th Dail met for the first time since the May 17 general election last week, Ahern promised “a fair society of equal opportunity and a sustained prosperity on an island at peace with itself” in his acceptance speech.
He said Irish people should be justly proud of the peace, prosperity and progress they had achieved in the last five years.
“The challenge now is to sustain these achievements and to ensure they are lasting,” he said.
“It is the historic challenge of the government that takes office today to ensure that the Good Friday agreement is not a false dawn and that our economic development does not prove to be fool’s gold.”
Veteran Fianna Fail deputy Rory O’Hanlon, 68, was elected as the new Ceann Comhairle (speaker).