EUR3.75m COWEN'S CULL OF 5 JUNIOR MINISTERS WILL SAVE FORTUNE.
THE Taoiseach bowed to intense pressure yesterday and gave five junior ministers the boot ahead of today's Budget.
In a dramatic U-turn, Brian Cowen told all 20 junior ministers to quit on April 21 - but he will only re-appoint 15 to the plum posts the following day.
As recently as last month the Government defended the fact the posts, often dubbed "jobs for the boys", had swelled to 20 and voted down an attempt by Fine Gael to reduce the number.
But Mr Cowen was forced to order a cull yesterday to quell public anger expected after today's Budget.
It's estimated each junior minister costs EUR750,000 so five getting the chop will save around EUR3.75million a year. Junior minister perks include a EUR150,000 salary, plus lavish expenses and an army of staff which cost taxpayers EUR8million a year.
Each junior also has two drivers, often family members, who are paid EUR35,000 a year each.
After a meeting with the 20 junior ministers, Mr Cowen issued a statement yesterday saying: "It was agreed that there is a need to restructure the way that Government does its business to ensure it is more effective and delivers best value to the taxpayer." Mr Cowen is also expected to do a re-shuffle of the faces in the junior ranks with under-performing ministers getting the boot and new TDs being promoted from the backbenches.
After the Taoiseach's announcement, speculation immediately turned to which junior ministers are likely to be out in the cold.
Several portfolios - including Minister for Lifelong Learning, held by Sean Haughey, and Minister for Food Safety and Health Promotion, held by Mary Wallace - are believed to be in the firing line.
Local Services Minister Michael Kitt and Science Minister Jimmy Devins also look doomed.
There will also be question marks over the need for a Minister for Food and Horticulture - a position which was handed to Trevor Sargent when the Greens came in to Government.
The Greens will insist on holding on to a junior ministry so Mr Sargent will remain within the ranks but may be reshuffled to a more demanding brief.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern increased the number of junior ministers from 17 to 20 after the 2007 General Election.
In recent months several including John McGuinness and Martin Mansergh have offered publicly to stand down if required.
Fine Gael last night said there were "still far too many junior ministers" and more need to be sacked to save taxpayers' money.
Environment spokesman Phil Hogan said: "As they always are, the Government is a day late and a dollar short.
"This issue has been on the table for months and just two weeks ago Fine Gael gave Fianna Fail and the Greens the opportunity to cut the number of junior ministers from 20 to 12. The Government voted against the measure."
Irish Mirror Comment: Page 10
MEASURES Taoiseach Brian Cowen SCIENCE JIMMY DEVINS LOCAL SERVICES MICHAEL KITT FOOD & HEALTH PROMOTION MARY WALLACE EDUCATION SEAN HAUGHEY FOOD AND HORTICULTURE TREVOR SARGENT