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Andrews stepping down as foreign minister

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — As Foreign Minister David Andrews retires this week, the front runner to succeed him when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern re-shuffles his mid-term Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat cabinet is Health Minister Brian Cowen.

Tanaiste Mary Harney has indicated that a wide-ranging switch around of ministers may follow Andrews’s departure.

Ahern is consulting his colleagues and advisors about a fresh look for his team in the second half of his administration and the run up to the next general election.

If coalition gets a second term it will be the first government to do so since 1969.

Apart from making full use of the pool of talent available to him, Ahern will also be taking into consideration the geographic spread of his team and the need to maximize votes and the number of TDs when he goes to the country.

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"I think the taoiseach will take the opportunity to move some people around," Harney said. "The taoiseach wants to ensure that the Government is cohesive and that we have the right people in the right jobs."

The decision of Andrews, 64, to quit now comes as a surprise. He had dismissed media speculation about his possible resignation just before Christmas.

In his resignation statement Andrews said it was an "opportune" time for him to leave, as it will allow Ahern to get his future cabinet team in place for an election.

Cowen, 40, a tough-talking Tullamore solicitor, has had a difficult period in Health. While not regarded as one of the Dail’s diplomats, he was disappointed when he failed to get the job as Ireland’s EU Commissioner. Instead, Attorney General David Byrne was the surprise choice to go to Brussels last June.

Despite his reputation for caution and consensus, the taoiseach may again spring some shocks, moving around senior ministers, promoting promising juniors and bringing in younger backbenchers.

If Ahern opts for a more major shake-up those also being mentioned for a possible change of portfolio include Education Minister Michael Martin, Justice Minister John O’Donoghue and Social Welfare Minister Dermot Ahern.

Chief Whip and junior Minister Seamus Brennan is keen for promotion to the cabinet. He has been liaising with the Independent TDs whose support is necessary to keep the minority government in power.

Other possible contenders for full cabinet rank are junior ministers like Martin Cullen and Tom Kitt.

Able backbenchers like Brian Lenihan Jr., Eoin Ryan and Mary Hanafin are being tipped for promotion.

Andrews had been a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations and he described Good Friday agreement as a "watershed in Irish history."

"Its achievement has given me huge personal fulfillment. A large part of my personal motivation in entering politics over 30 years ago was to make a contribution to peace, reconciliation and justice on the one island we are all so proud to share.

"A new era has opened for all Irish people. It is now for younger people, of all traditions, to seize the opportunity and to move with it."

Reaction in the North to Andrews’s departure was mixed and ranged from SDLP leader John Hume paying a fulsome tribute to DUP leader the Rev. Ian Paisley saying he was glad to see the back of him.

Andrews, who had also taken a close personal interest in East Timor, had been strongly pressing Ireland’s case to secure a seat on the UN Security Council in 2001.

Ireland has played a leading role in campaigning for disarmament during his time as minister and he also had a strong commitment to Third World country issues.

He has successfully contested 11 general elections for the middle class constituency of Dun Laoghaire since 1965 and had announced last year he would not be standing again. One of his two sons, Barry, is expected to seek his seat.

A barrister, he had been minister for defense and marine and was a junior minister in justice and at the Department of the Taoiseach under Jack Lynch.

He supported George Colley for the Fianna Fail leadership when Lynch resigned and as a result was not close to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and spent years in the political wilderness of the backbenches during his leadership of Fianna Fail.

When Albert Reynolds succeeded Haughey in 1992, Andrews came back as foreign minister only to lose the job to former Tanaiste Dick Spring when the Fianna Fail-Labor coalition was formed in January 1993.

Andrews switched from minister for defense to become minister for foreign affairs in Ahern’s administration when Ray Burke resigned amid sleaze allegations in October 1997.

His brother Niall is an MEP for Dublin and had previously been a TD in South Dublin. They are sons of Dr. C .S. "Todd" Andrews, who was chairman of RTE and chief executive of CIE and Bord na Mona.

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