If newly re-elected Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern’s post-election Cabinet reshuffle was marked by characteristic caution, then newly-installed UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s post-appointment Cabinet reshuffle was marked by uncharacteristic flexibility.
For example, Brown divided the Department for Education and Skills into two, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS; full Ministerial team here) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Then, both David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, and Sir Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, both reshuffled their respective front benches to appoint shadows to these Departments.
However messy the split might be to implement, it is nevertheless an important one, recognising that it is inappropriate to locate policy for the very different education sectors in one department: inevitably, the focus tends to be on one strand, to the detriment of the others. Stand-alone departments, arguing their separate cases at government level, avoid this.
It is therefore disappointing, to say the least, to see that, whilst the university sector merits a full ministry in the UK, it doesn’t even merit a junior minister in Ireland. For all the Irish government’s cant about the importance of research to the national development plan, this lack of recognition is another disheartening example of how the third level sector continues to be marginalised in Irish government policy-making.