Friday 9 May 2008

Cowen's imaginative reshuffle

Ireland's new Taoiseach Brian Cowen has made an imaginative start with the new cabinet he announced on Wednesday, with the promotion of the able rising star Mary Coughlan (left) as Tanaiste and Trade minister and the effective Brian Lenihan as Finance minister. His coalition agreement makes it impossible to move Mary Harney from health, where she has had a stormy time, though she is trying to push vital reform; or the more impressive John Gormley, a Green environment minister. However, moving Mary Hanafin from education to a family ministry is a shamful appeasement of the teaching unions who disliked her belief that parents deserved to be informed about schools. (Ireland's bizarre Freedom of Information laws ban parents from seeing school exam results or inspection reports, measures taken at the behest of the unions). It is doubtful her successor Batt O'Keeffe will go down as a great education reformer. Michael Martin's continued rise is confirmed, with a move to foreign affairs that should give him a higher profile in Britain. All in all, it suggested sure-footedness by Cowen and a fresher feel (education aside) to a government that is facing a much sharper economic downturn after the UK, a result of its spectacular recent growth. Despite this, Labour under Eamonn Gilmore and the hapless Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny face an even tougher task with Fianna Fail's refreshing than they did while Bertie was still in post.

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