New Super Junior Minister Willie Penrose has played down talk of a rift with Labour leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore over his appointment as the Coalition Government’s new Housing and Planning Minister.
The Longford-Westmeath TD also fended off suggestions the decision to appoint deputy leader Joan Burton as Social Protection Minister and not to a senior economic or finance portfolio had led to some angry exchanges within Labour.
Mr Penrose said he was delighted with his promotion, admitting that he did seek further explanation from Mr Gilmore in a bid to determine that his role was more than just a ceremonial one.
“I wanted to make sure about it (super junior appointment) and that I wasn’t just a note taker. There was no difference of opinion. I needed to know that I could make a contribution across a lot of areas,” he said.
The Ballynacargy barrister accepted his task in tackling the State’s wider housing issues, weighed down by an ever increasing number of ghost estates, was a “huge brief” to take on. Describing his appointment as a “great honour”, Mr Penrose said he felt the appointment was recognition of his work to date.
“I think it is recognition of the fact that I have been returned (as a TD) since 1992. Obviously I am delighted for myself and my family and it is great for the people that supported me,” he added.
The father of three revealed his hopes of securing a cabinet position looked decidedly ominous as the inauguration of the new government was rubber-stamped last Wednesday.
“I didn’t get the call (from Mr Gilmore) until 4:30pm. There were people coming in and out (of his office) and I didn’t think it (call) would come but when I got it I was delighted,” he said.
Despite those concerns, Mr Penrose said he has big plans as he nears the end of his first full week as Minister for Housing and Planning.
Part of those proposals involves opening up preliminary talks with local authorities and National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) chiefs in an attempt to address the State’s beleaguered construction sector.
“There are issues in terms of resources, that’s for sure but I will certainly be making every effort to make sure can make a difference in that area. In conjunction with local authorities we will have to develop a coherent plan with regard to ghost estates in co-operation with NAMA. One of the big issues for me is that we will have to get some sort of social dividend for the State in the context of housing,” he said.
On reports some senior figures had been left surprised by the decision to reward Ms Burton with the social protection portfolio as opposed to a public expenditure and reform brief, Mr Penrose said the move would prove to be a fruitful one for the party and overall make up of the cabinet.
“She (Ms Burton) is one of the finest and brightest people in the country to tackle the social welfare system. I can see her making a very positive contribution to the cabinet,” he added.