THE LONG GOODBYE of Bartholomew Ahern ended on Wednesday, May 8th, when Brian Cowen was elected Taoiseach by 88 votes to 76. Although the outcome had been certain, the tradition of proposing the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore was complied with.
After his eklection Brian Cowen visited Áras an Uachtaráin returning to name his new Cabinet in the Dáil.
THE NEW CABINET
Taoiseach: Brian Cowen
Tanaiste: Mary Coughlan
Finance: Brian Lenihan
Health: Mary Harney
Transport: Noel Dempsey
Justice: Dermot Ahern
Foreign Affairs: Mícheál Martin
Arts, Sport and Tourism: Martin Cullen
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs: Éamo Ó Cuív
Social and Family Affairs: Mary Hanafin
Defence: William O'Dea
Environment, Heritage and Local Government: John Gormley
Communications, Energy and Natural Resources: Eamon Ryan
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:: Brendan Smith
Education and Science: Batt O'Keeffe
Chief Whip: Patrick Carey
Minister of State for Children and Youth Affairs: Barry Andrews
Attorney General: Paul Gallagher
MARY HARNEY has retained Health, although it seems that three quarters of the population are clamouring for her to go. Her agenda is to privatise Health, a move that will make life easier for her Department from which she has already shucked off a lot of responsibility. Under her, the prospects for Health are not rosy.
BATT O'KEEFFE is the new Minister for Education and Science replacing MARY HANAFIN who has been moved sideways to Social and Family Affairs although she had expressed a desire to remain in Education. His first performance on Radio after his appointment was disappointing and sounded negative, - apparently his plans will be to save money even at the cost of providing schools and relieving over-crowding in classrooms. Disappointing for me too was the fact that he made no mention of the curse of bullying that is rampant at present in Irish schools with 40% being bullied according to the latest survey.
CHIEF WHIP THOMAS KITT lost his job to PATRICK CAREY and promptly announced that he would not stand for election again. This was the first chink in the armour of the new Government. There were rumours that frantic efforts were being made to make him change his mind.
SURPRISE RETENTION was MARTIN CULLEN (see Archive). SEAMUS BRENNAN had already signalled that he would not be available because of ill health.
THE NEW CABINET is not very different from the old but there is a new leader, BRIAN COWEN, who may give it a new direction. Every new leader must be given a chance to show what stuff they are made of. The blessing given to Mary Harney's programme is not promising. The good relationship with Stormont will continue and the Peace Process, such as it is, will not be endangered, it may be strengthened. As the Celtic Tiger diminishes, two important portfolios have been entrusted to Tanaiste MARY COUGHLAN (Enterprise, Trade and Employment) and BRIAN LENIHAN (Finance) - and the country will be watching.
ON FRIDAY a new challenge was thrown down publicly to the entire Cabinet on the question of the use of Shannon and other Irish airports by US aircraft suspected of involvement in "extraordianry rendition". A letter in the Irish Times, signed by 32 people, mostly Irish, reports that the signatories have decided to form a People's Inspection Team and from now onwards are recruitng active lay inspectors to aid the Irish Government and Garda in thoroughly inspecting aircraft landing at Shannon airport and suspected of involvement in extraordinary rendition.
GREEN PARTY Ministers are expected to remain silent on this and other green issues such as the destruction of Tara of the high Kings and its environs, Corrib Gas, export of live animals etc (See Archive) Two camps of protestors at Rath Lugh and Tara Hill have been ruthlessly sacked in the past two weeks alone.
DERMOT AHERN is another Minister (at Justice) who will be closely watched. Not only did crime not abate under his predecessor (Brian Lenihan) but there are signs that the house of Justice itself (with all of its trappings) needs urgent reform. It will be interesting to see if this will happen.
WHETHER OR NOT this Government will give us the better Ireland that is so badly needed will depend on where its members place their loyalties: Will their loyalties be given to Party, colleagues and friends or will loyalty be given first of all to Conscience and Country.
THEY HAVE THEIR CHANCE