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Harris avoids making enemies with limited reshuffle

There was, maybe, a discreet wipe of his eye as Simon Harris stooped his head and listened to the Ceann Comhairle say that the moment would firmly be ensconced in the memories of his children, Cillian and Saoirse.

“Long may they remember this great achievement on the part of their dad,” Seán Ó Fearghaíl said.

The new Taoiseach – who had just moments earlier been elected by 88 votes to 69 in the Dáil breathed in the moment.

Then he rose to his feet and stepped into a job that many who know him say he has been waiting for all his life, but an elevation none the less that he briefly appeared overwhelmed by.

A short time earlier, his predecessor Leo Varadkar said in his resignation speech: “I always knew he would be Taoiseach one day. But this is coming a little sooner than he might have planned or expected.”

Within three short weeks, Mr Harris went from a position of relative calm, a hiding in plain sight minister in a department with little controversy, to holding the top job where in the words of another of his predecessors, Enda Kenny, “people actually own you”.

Mr Varadkar left without any obvious threat of a humiliating heave (File image)

He had a lucky start given that he rose to the job without any political bloodletting.

Despite months of political rumour and speculation about whether and when Mr Varadkar would be replaced as Fine Gael leader, it happened smoothly and politely in the end.

The writing may have been on the walls since the double referendum landslide defeats.

But Mr Varadkar still left on his own terms and without any obvious threat of a humiliating heave.

This left the party in a better place, without the lingering resentments or splits that previously characterised such transitions.

His ability to manoeuvre himself into the position and step immediately into the job unopposed, speaks to his skill as a political operator that both his opponents and supporters in Leinster House would acknowledge.

Following this, came the reshuffle/non-reshuffle.

Peter Burke (L) was appointed Minister for Enterprise (Pic: Rolling News)

In the first hint of his style of leadership, he played it extremely safe, making two full Cabinet promotions and little else.

It was a stroke of luck for Mr Harris that he had two vacancies to fill, one from his own elevation to Taoiseach and the other from Simon Coveney’s decision to step down.

This meant he was able to freshen things up without having to sack anyone or put too many noses out of joint.

Stepping up was Peter Burke – the first Mullingar minister.

The 41-year-old will become Minister for Enterprise tasked mainly with delivering a package of measures to support small and medium businesses that were promised by Mr Harris over the course of his party’s weekend Ard Fheis.

Patrick O’Donovan was appointed Minister for Higher Education (Pic: Rolling News)

Joining him will be Patrick O’Donovan from Limerick County who will ensure that Fine Gael maintains a representative from Munster at the Cabinet.

He has been appointed Minister for Higher Education, the Taoiseach’s old job.

These promotions are an indication of a leader that wants to show Fine Gael as a party of rural Ireland.

Having already lost seats in rural constituencies last time around and with many more voters potentially floating to Independents, the rural and farmer vote is seen as a key battleground if the party is to stave off disaster in the elections ahead.

Ms MacNeill was appointed Minister of State at the Department of European Affairs (Pic: Rolling News)

Geography trumped gender meaning Dún Laoghaire TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, who wowed the Fine Gael faithful with her warm-up address at the conference on Saturday evening, was not promoted to full Cabinet.

She was appointed Minister of State at the Department of European Affairs, a junior ministry but one that the new regime says will have added responsibility and profile.

Another Dublin TD, Neale Richmond, is likely to become Minister of State at the Department of Finance.

Beyond that, nobody else moved.

Will Mr Harris’s reshuffle convince people he can deliver the new energy that is promised in his slogan?

Despite a lot of speculation Helen McEntee will stay in the Department of Justice.

That is a conservative approach by the new Taoiseach.

It is also one that carries some risk because if there are any slip ups in her portfolio or she fails to deliver on calls within the party to do more on law and order, it would look like Mr Harris made the wrong call.

So, with his limited reshuffle, the new Taoiseach ensures he doesn’t make any enemies.

But will the safe and steady approach to the Cabinet reshuffle convince people that he is the man to deliver the new energy that is promised in his slogan?


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