Many contenders for junior minister jobs, but not enough room in the tent

Party leaders yet to finalise list of ministers of State, but there will be disappointments

Groups of TDs gathered around Leinster House and the National Convention Centre for nervous conversations about their prospects, conscious that they are all each other's rivals as much as colleagues.

The subject of their speculations was Wednesday’s expected announcement of the list of ministers of State – junior ministers – and their chances of inclusion in the second tier of ministerial office.

The aspirant junior ministers may have to wait a little longer after the three party leaders failed to conclude a final list at a meeting on Tuesday night. They are due to confer on Wednesday, and an incorporeal Cabinet meeting may be held later on Wednesday to make the appointments. The list may not now be made public until Thursday, Government sources said on Tuesday night.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will have eight junior ministers each, while the Greens will have four

Politicians are obsessed with jobs for politicians; it is part of what makes them tick. And even though the public don’t care that much one way or the other, the allocation and distribution of jobs is important for any government. The first few days of the new Government have been overshadowed by the controversy over Dara Calleary’s appointment, or non-appointment. This may be a vast overstatement of its true importance; but it is real, nonetheless. So the three party leaders will be very careful about these appointments. That is good news for those whose gender and geography is an advantage.


Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will have eight junior ministers each, while the Greens will have four. Each party has already announced its "super junior" – a junior minister who gets to sit at the Cabinet, though does not lead a government department and is not a full Cabinet member. They are Calleary (the chief whip), the Green Party's Pippa Hackett and Fine Gael's Hildegarde Naughton. So seven remaining vacancies each for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and three for the Greens.

Tight squeeze

It's a tight squeeze for Fine Gael, whose leader, Leo Varadkar, must contend with the expectations of some of the demoted Cabinet ministers. Of these, Josepha Madigan is considered a "cert" for promotion while former education minister Joe McHugh is also tipped. Like his fellow former Cabinet minister Michael Ring in Mayo, McHugh, a Donegal TD, has geography on his side.

Micheál Martin will use the appointments in a bid to ease some of the anger in his parliamentary party

So do outgoing junior ministers John Paul Phelan (the southeast) and Patrick O'Donovan (midwest). Their colleagues Damien English and Brendan Griffin have been strong performers but things are filling up now, and there is only one woman so far – so new TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill could be in line for a quick promotion. She has worked in different government departments as an adviser, is close to Varadkar and is a strong media performer. Other possible promotions are party chairman Martin Hayden. But they can't all get in.

Micheál Martin will use the appointments in a bid to ease some of the anger in his parliamentary party, but will be conscious of the first rule of ministerial appointments: you end up making more enemies than friends. Those who are appointed tend to believe they get there on merit; those left out can nurse grudges for years.


Meath TD Thomas Byrne was unlucky not to make Cabinet and is in line for Helen McEntee's old job as junior minister for Europe, sources say. Anne Rabbitte was widely tipped for Cabinet and left disappointed, so will feel truly victimised if she is omitted. Mary Butler (Waterford) has the advantages of both gender and geography. Jack Chambers is considered a short-odds bet, while Robert Troy and Charlie McConalogue have strong claims and are likely to be included. Michael Moynihan, Marc McSharry and James Lawless are also in the running but we are running out of slots here.

And what of Jim O'Callaghan? The party's justice spokesman was very publicly snubbed by his leader. Colleagues wonder if he would take a junior gig, though he has indicated to some he would be interested. Limerick deputy Niall Collins was slapped down after a Dáil voting controversy, but he is able and experienced. Whatever Martin does, he will only succeed in annoying more people.

The Greens have three jobs and eight contenders. Brian Leddin, Malcolm Noonan and Marc Ó Cathasaigh are all in a strong position, but perhaps the biggest question will be whether Eamon Ryan appoints Neasa Hourigan – formerly the party's finance spokeswoman but a strong opponent of the coalition deal – to a job in that coalition.

Inside the tent, or outside? With 20 junior ministers, it’s a big tent. But there’s never room for everyone.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times