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Miriam Lord: Stephen Donnelly’s ministerial career is sitting up in bed and having a soft boiled egg

If your breath is bated for the changing of the guard this weekend, the bad news is that you can expect a wee shuffle instead of a reshuffle

Micheál and Leo are doing the wee shuffle on Saturday. It’s going to be historic.

But not to be confused with that little dance done in slow queues for crowded toilets which will also be performed on Saturday, but by normal people whooping it up in hostelries around Kildare Street on the biggest party night before Christmas.

They couldn’t care less about junior ministers.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste’s wee shuffle has been eagerly awaited all week in Leinster House by those with a material interest in its outcome and by the usual dreary complement of people who get overly excited discussing the job prospects of minor government politicians.


Christmas has come early for the political anoraks.

When the hybrid Coalition was lashed together and Micheál Martin got custody of the Chief Executive’s toilet for the first half of its five-year term, it was always envisaged that a cabinet reshuffle would accompany the ceremonial passing of the golden key to Leo Varadkar. If nothing else, both party leaders would be able to keep their senior officers on their toes with the prospect of demotion or promotion looming at the midway stage.

But now all the cabinet ministers have become “Big Beasts” who cannot be shunted from their positions because they are too influential, important, female, geographically unique, dangerous, competent, dangerously competent or highly likely to throw a strop and refuse to go.

With the changeover imminent, names of ministers deemed “safe” are trickling out of Government Buildings. Some, such as Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, have already been given the nod to stay put. The Greens are indicating their line-up will remain unchanged.

With days to go, even the minister most tipped for the chop was reported to have rallied immensely. Stephen Donnelly’s ministerial career was apparently sitting up in bed and having a soft boiled egg.

This won’t please the Fianna Fail backbenchers still quietly seething over how Micheál parachuted the Minister for Health – and him a blow-in from another party - into an instant ministry.

So unless the two leaders are planning to spring a major surprise, no big reshuffle will be announced on Saturday. Just a very small one – a wee shuffle.

On Wednesday, as the nation’s historic swap at the top approached, a great mood of imaginary excitement gripped Dail Eireann. Anticipation levels neared fever pitch in the chamber and in the corridors. Wild rumours swept nowhere that maybe two junior ministerial positions might be created and a few unlowly Ministers of State could get the bullet.

The speculation was mildly diverting.

Political anoraks and the politically ambitious on the government side were agog.

The Opposition was agog with indifference.

And the government, wisely, took measures to calm the situation.

Michael McGrath, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, was drafted in to take Leaders’ Questions. That did the trick.

In the absence of not-gone-yet Micheál Martin - who had to rush away to Brussels on an emergency lap of honour, his constituency colleague coolly and competently held the fort.

In Minister McGrath’s most memorable performance yet as Taoiseach’s stand-in, he laid out many fascinating figures and statistics and his easy rapport with acronyms delighted the chamber.

It was gem after gem from born entertainer, sorry, accountant Michael.

“We will have proper alignment of strategic planning at national, regional and local level over longer cycles.”

“At the centre of this is putting plan-making at the heart of our planning system.”

“We do have work to do to make sure that we implement the recommendations that have been made by various tribunals of inquiry, by GRECO, by SIPO in terms of our annual reports.”

Inexplicably, our thoughts wondered to the other big story of week apart from the wee shuffle: the reported breakthrough by scientists in America in the quest to discover a way to harness nuclear fusion and provide clean, safe and limitless energy. Nuclear fusion is how the sun makes its energy.

And then there is nuclear fission, the very dangerous process which splits atoms to provide energy.

Energy doesn’t usually spring to mind when the very careful Minister for Public Expenditure takes Leaders’ Questions but the absence of either Micheál Martin or Leo Varadkar got us wondering about their forthcoming reversal of roles and how they might react to their new dynamic.

Will it be a case of fission or fusion this time in Merrion Street?

If steady Micheál is in the fusion camp, does that put impulsive Leo in the fission camp? There could be fireworks in the future.

But for now, as the Dail ground its way through a very long day and night pushing legislation through the gap before the long Christmas break, tired TDs finally have the end of another political year in their sights.

Just one more ordinary sitting day to go – will Tánaiste Varadkar grace them with his presence for the final time on Thursday or dazzle with a triumphant reappearance at the installation of Taoiseach Leo the Second on Saturday?

Will Sinn Fein dent his retooled but still slightly battered crown by nominating Mary Lou McDonald for the job? They aren’t saying yet, but it would seem a shame to waste the opportunity.

These aren’t burning questions in the House. The Opposition are explicitly not bothered by some small changes in a government they don’t want, and the predicted downgrading of the reshuffle to a wee shuffle has dulled interest generally in this unprecedented mid-term switcheroo.

Apart from some worried Ministers of State, their equally worried ambitious colleagues and a rump of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael backbenchers just waiting to be affronted, Saturday should be interesting but uneventful.

Then again ...

By the way, officials from the National Cybersecurity Centre were in Leinster House on Tuesday to brief Oireachtas members on their work. They told deputies and senators that governments are most vulnerable to cyberattacks at times of major change in an administration.

We should be fine, so.