Vincent Wall: The Taoiseach is said to have a hidden ruthless streak - Michael Noonan could be in the line of fire...
Watching Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin perform their 'Chuckle Brothers' routine at the recent publication of the 2015 Exchequer Returns set me thinking about whether either would find himself holding the same portfolios following the election.
While the public expression of professional and fraternal affection grated a little with the watching cohort of grizzled hacks, it’s hard to argue that the duo’s strong personal and working relationship did prove beneficial during the tough austerity period from 2011 to 2014.
But should we expect to see them don the same mantles from March onwards, even if Fine Gael and Labour find themselves in the next government? Should we even expect a continuation of the Finance/Public Expenditure and Reform departmental split, established by current administration when it came to power?
Brian Lawless / PA Wire
First things first: both men are entitled to a strong expectation of re-election, a level of assurance not enjoyed by all members of the Cabinet.
As things stand, Michael Noonan probably holds a greater expectation of returning to the Finance brief and has voiced that aspiration in public.
But apart from continuing question marks over his health – and nobody wishes him other than well on that front – it’s fair to ask whether his reappointment would represent the best strategic use of his available human resources by Enda Kenny if he returns as Taoiseach.
As the solid, experienced, laconic politician of a certain age, and one distanced from the shapes younger politicians have to throw to further their ambition, Noonan was best placed over the past five years to calm the frayed nerves of an apprehensive nation and to build credibility and foster support with peers across Europe.
But are these the qualities and skills necessarily required now for an economy entering its third successive year as Europe’s fastest-growing? And should we not seek a new and perhaps more energetic (understandably) approach to take us through the next five-year term, which Noonan for various reasons may not wish to see out?
Furthermore, if Kenny really has the best strategic interests of the nation as well as his party in mind, should he not use the Finance brief, during a period of relative plenty and of continued detailed Eurozone oversight, to blood his successor as leader, and as Taoiseach?
He’s supposed to have a hidden ruthless streak: so Michael Noonan for Ceann Comhairle, anyone?
Niall Carson / PA
The other half
Meanwhile, Brendan Howlin could ostensibly find himself as Labour Party leader by the summer if, as currently forecast, Labour loses a significant number of seats in the election, including possibly that of current chief Joan Burton.
Either way, even if Labour does manage to form a smaller proportion of the next coalition government, there may well be sharper competition for cabinet places generally, and for the Public Expenditure and Reform brief specifically, than was the case last time round.
Finally, the split in the traditional unitary Department of Finance structure and the establishment of Public Expenditure and Reform probably did serve us well as we crawled our way out of the fiscal crisis over recent years. But does this structure still represent the best way forward, particularly where the number of cabinet positions is limited under the Constitution and where there is growing pressure to appoint senior ministers to portfolios such as housing and climate change?
And, how counter-productive might the dual departmental structure prove, if God forbid unlike the outgoing 'Chuckle Brothers' the next incumbents didn’t like each other and actually worked against each others’ interests?
Interesting times ahead...