‘A BIT of electioneering’ was how Fine Gael deputy Michael Noonan described the new Fianna Fail front bench, announced this week by Micheal Martin.
In fact, he said the term ‘front bench’ is a misnomer in this instance with the 30th Dail now dissolved.
However, the rejig by the party’s new leader had very real implications for the Limerick constituency after Deputy John Cregan announced the day after the reshuffle that he would not be contesting the election.
In the eyes of the Dromcollogher native, it was a case of favouritism by Mr Martin that three of the four local Fianna Fail TDs were selected, and a damaging display of his preferences before the crucial vote on February 25.
Former Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, who was forced to resign as minister one year ago, has been firmly welcomed back into the fold, after being appointed spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources.
Deputy O’Dea said he was “very happy” with the new brief, which was communicated to him last weekend by Micheál Martin and which he “naturally accepted.”
The Kilteely native said he “didn’t ask for it [the position] or seek it”, but hopes the appointment of three Limerick TDs to the frontbench will bring the region’s “strong voice” to the next Dail if the party are in office.
However, Deputy O’Dea assured the electorate that the appointment “will not change my constant focus on the constituents of Limerick.”
Speaking on the plinth outside Leinster House, Mr Martin said Mr O’Dea was one of the most talented politicians in Government. “He also represents the working class and the less well off in society. Above all he has enjoyed a huge mandate from people in Limerick,” he said.
Minister of State Peter Power, with responsibility for overseas development, has been appointed spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade - an exciting and radical brief, he said.
Minister Power said the new front bench cohort has created “a very strong Limerick team in the new front bench”, and overall presents a “very good blend of experience and youth.
“He wasn’t afraid to go outside the parliamentary party to look for talent ... it signals a real shift by Micheal Martin, and I agree with him, to say the political system in Ireland is broken. If I’m hearing anything on the doorsteps is that people are sick and tired of the shouting and roaring back and forth across the chamber in Dail Eireann day in, day out.
“I, for one, am fed up of it. We’re going to have to completely change how the Dail works,” he told this newspaper.
Limerick West’s TD Niall Collins will now be covering Deputy O’Dea’s former defence portfolio, and while it is not in the official title, he also been asked to advise on finance and economic matters.
Asked if the new line-up could influence the electorate, he said their new leader has “presented a new team ...reaching outside the normal hierarchy.”