Since the announcement of a change in Taoiseach there had been some worry about possible Cabinet changes that could see Martin Cullen, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, sidelined.
He himself was unsure as to what was going to happen, as new Taoiseach Brian Cowen held his counsel to himself as would any good solicitor.
The expectation in Waterford was that Minister Cullen would hold his position despite negative sentiment towards him in the national media. To have a Minister in the south east was seen as strategically important.
His ability as a strong TV performer when the economy is slowing makes him a competent speaker for the government.
This time the Fianna Fail party seems more united and sacking Ministers was going to be divisive.
While the move to Arts, Sports and Tourism is a lower spending Ministry than Social and Family Affairs, it does offer more scope to boost tourism in the south east.
The region has not done as well as it could and the re-structuring of Failte Ireland, where it comes under Ireland South, means that more decisions are taken outside Waterford and in Cork and Dublin. Cork and Kerry are running good incoming packages through Cork Airport.
With the new routes from Waterford Airport the potential to grow incoming tourism is now better than ever, but require local initiatives. More Failte Ireland funding to boost incoming tourism from the UK and France would be welcome. Culture will also be very important with the new Viking Quarter that is planned for Waterford. An announcement had been expected in April but this deadline has now passed.
With Minister Cullen in that department, focus must not be lost. Theatre has long been strong in Waterford and an enhanced facility at the Theatre Royal should be very positive. This whole area will benefit in the long term.
Community Arts has long been a strong activity in the south east and perhaps this can be promoted more and recognised. There have been lots of festivals planned for the likes of Killarney and Galway over the years when other areas could have hosted such events if funds were available. A better disbursement might boost other tourism locations.
These regions have done very well from tourism as has the capital Dublin, with its better access. A better spread of tourism promotion would be welcome.
Having signs up for the 2011 Tall Ships is positive but we could do more in terms of festive weekends in the run-up to that event. Some new festive weekend ideas could now have a fresh focus, this requires more local initiatives. Kilkenny is very vibrant and has become a centre for the Irish comedy scene with its Cat Laughs Festival. The Rhythm Roots does well there too.
Local festivals are seeing funding withdrawn from big sponsors like Guinness who are engaged in a cost cutting drive. This saw this years’ Tra Fest in Tramore go under, due to lack of sponsorship. Other similar events are also threatened.
The Government may be asked to fund festivals more as corporate sponsors cut back. New rules on alcohol advertising may accelerate this trend.
In the meantime, well done to Minister Cullen on his new portfolio, which keeps a South East voice in Cabinet.
There is general satisfaction from various sections of the political divide as it keeps Waterford and the South East high up in the list of priorities for the Government.
Even Fine Gael and Opposition politicans expressed satisfaction, like the Mayor of Waterford Cllr. Mary O’Halloran and Senator Paudie Coffey.
The potential is there to take advantage of the infrastructure projects coming to the city.
Having experience in Environment, Transport and Family Affairs will see him bring extra expertise to Art, Sport and Tourism.
Taoiseach Cowen will bring a new flavour to Government. It may not be as spend thrift as the previous administration, as tax revenues decline. The new pay deal will also be difficult to finalise. Bertie Ahern may be glad to take time out and wait for the Presidency in the next two years.
As the economy becaomes less competitive, the harder the job it is to be in Government. Cowen and his Cabinet leadership skills will seriously be tested. A tighter rein may be required on the big spending departments, like Health.
The Departure of Mary Hanafin from the Ministry of Education could cause some people to think that this might improve the chances of a University.
A new Minister from Cork, Batt O’Keeffe, takes his first senior Cabinet position.
Senior Civil Servants maybe rather cautious given the falling tax revenues and will be wondering whether their budgets will be affected.
The new criteria for university upgrade needs to be issued so that another application can be made from Waterford.
This will slow down the process, in the meantime, the decline in the economy could well have bottomed out, so there should still be optimism on this front.