Galway East TD and Fianna Fail Programme for Government negotiator Anne Rabbitte was last night named a Minister of State by Taoiseach Micheál Martin when the names of the 17 junior ministers were revealed after a day of speculation.
Pressure had been building on the Government after a weekend of anger expressed at the lack of representation for Galway and the West in the new Government.
At time of going to press, it was reported that Dep Rabbitte had been appointed Minister of State for Disabilities in the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration.
At the weekend, Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton became only the second female Galway TD to be appointed a seat in a Government Cabinet, but much anger has been expressed at the lack of representation for Galway and the West in the new Government.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin's new Cabinet has drawn much criticism for it's regional imbalance, and while Galway and the West were likely to be 'compensated' by the appointment of a number of junior ministerial appointments. However, no junior minister may sit at Cabinet meetings, and even those who can, the so-called 'Super Junior' ministers, are not permitted to vote at Cabinet meetings.
The Mayor of Galway, Mike Cubbard, spoke for many when he issued this criticism: "Connacht has a population of over 550,000 people and was ignored by Michéal Martin. Yet his own constituency of Cork South Central with a population of about 125,000 now has three at the top table. Fairness and balance are the very least I would have expected but what we got was an absolute imbalance in terms of location."
The Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Cllr James Charity, pointed out that, "for the first time in the history of the State, a vast portion of the country west of the Shannon, comprising over 1.1 million people in Connacht, Donegal, Clare, Limerick, Westmeath, and Longford, has been left without a vote at the Cabinet table. It is dismissive, appalling, unforgivable and a very clear early signal of the anti-rural nature of the incoming Government."
'Urban-based politicians Martin, Varadkar, and Ryan are out of touch with rural Ireland and do not regard us as being of importance'
Sinn Féin Galway East representative, Louis O'Hara, who secured 16.7 per cent of first preference votes at the February General Election, and who lasted until the eighth and final count, said the geographical make-up of the new Cabinet "does not bode well for the future of the West".
"The decision does not inspire confidence that this Government will deliver balanced regional development and invest in services for the west such as broadband and public transport links," he said. "It is fair to say that the urban-based politicians Martin, Varadkar, and Ryan are out of touch with rural Ireland and do not regard us as being of importance."
Naughton to sit at Cabinet table
However the appointment of Fine Gael Galway West TD, Hildegarde Naughton to the post of Minister of State at the Department of Transport with responsibility for Ports, Airports and Road Transport, has been welcomed.
'These are unprecedented times and the challenges the new administration faces are great and many'
Hildegarde Naughton said she is "honoured to have been appointed as a minister of state". Along with Mayo TD Dara Calleary, the new Chief Whip and a Minister of State to the Cabinet, Minister Naughton will be the only Western voice at the Cabinet table. However, neither may vote at Cabinet meetings.
“These are unprecedented times and the challenges the new administration faces are great and many. But I’m looking forward to playing a part and making a real difference for the people of my county and country,” she said.
Galway Chamber has welcomed the appointment of Dep Naughton as a Minister of State, with Chamber CEO, Kenny Deery, calling it "good news for Galway and the region. This is a very challenging time for the Government, but we look forward to working with Minister Naughton on the objectives of Project Ireland 2040 in developing our region."