Energy minister Eamon Ryan: the Greens' best media performer

Brian Lenihan Minister for Finance

Lenihan is undoubtedly the star performer in government, despite facing the worst economic conditions of any finance minister. He had a rocky start in the job but visibly grew into it after the medical cards for the elderly debacle. Backed, it has to be said, by his taoiseach, Lenihan took the tough decisions, stood over them and passionately argued his case, helped by the fact that he is a superb communicator. Questions remain about the decision to introduce the bank guarantee on that famous night in September 2008 and to prop up Anglo Irish Bank, but at least as many questions remain about the opposing case as well. The economic outlook remains bleak but the sense of crisis that prevailed last year – when it appeared intervention by the IMF might be necessary – has passed, and for that Lenihan deserves enormous credit.

Performance: 7 out of 10

Mary Coughlan Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Innovation

She has become the lightning rod for criticism of the government over the last three years. Perhaps she is the victim of unnecessary berating by some sections of the media and it has affected her confidence. She was competent in the agriculture portfolio and there is a widespread view, inside and outside government, that she was 'over-promoted' when she got the enterprise, trade and employment role. Now in education, she will have to get on top of her brief quickly before the teacher conferences at Easter. Is she the type of radical reformer needed to shake up education and bring about the government's goal of becoming a smart, innovation-led economy?

Performance: 3

Batt O'Keeffe Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation

Largely unknown to the general public before his surprise elevation to the education job, and branded by some as Cowen's 'yes man', O'Keeffe has taken to cabinet like a duck to water. He has shown a deft political touch over the past two years, not least in his dealings with the media. He was also well able to take the heat over the cutbacks in education and took a tough line on paid sick leave for teachers and on the third-level salary gravy train. He didn't bury his head in the sand on grade inflation but was forced to back off on his move to reintroduce third-level fees following the renegotiation of the programme for government with the Greens. Industry insiders say he had a much better grasp of the knowledge economy than his predecessor, Mary Hanafin. His landing of the enterprise, trade and innovation job was a surprise to many, but he is clearly trusted by Cowen.

Performance: 5.5

Brendan Smith Minister for Agriculture

Viewed in some quarters to have been lucky to survive the reshuffle, Smith is seen as "a safe pair of hands" within government circles.

"Even though the IFA could have created a lot of problems for the government, Smith seems to have handled the farmers well over the last few years and that sector has been relatively quiet," claimed one government source.

Smith was lauded for his prompt and efficient handling of the pork crisis in 2008. His immediate international recall of all pork products helped ensure confidence quickly.

While former minister Willie O'Dea was always seen as a great weapon in Cowen's arsenal in going out to 'bat for the government', Smith is the complete opposite. An appearance on RTE's The Week in Politics on 22 March last year has a lot to do with this. Smith inadvertently disclosed, just hours after a pre-budget cabinet meeting, that the shortfall in public finances the government might need to make up in the April mini-budget was between €5 billion and €6 billion. His media appearances have been few and far between since then.

The biggest question hanging over Smith is: is he capable of leading agriculture away from its dependence on subsidies?

Performance: 4.5

Dermot Ahern Minister for Justice

Part of his legacy as justice minister will surely be the way he is now guiding civil partnership legislation through the Dáil. While many liberal activists feel the bill stops short and want gay marriage, Ahern's bill is a move in the right direction.

The justice arena has provided few headaches for Cowen with Ahern in charge. The dominance of the economy as the sole issue of concern has certainly been a reason for this, but Ahern has been steady in the role. Cowen was accused of tribalism for his reshuffle, and Ahern was also labelled with the 'tribalism' tag for his ill-judged behaviour during the confidence debate in Willie O'Dea. Ditching his justice minister's hat, he was rightly criticised for hurling partisan abuse at Fine Gael TDs during a debate on what was fundamentally a legal matter.

Performance: 5.5

Noel Dempsey Minister for Transport

While the blame for many of the nation's ills properly falls at its door, the government cannot be blamed for the weather. Yet the worst weather conditions on record in December and January thrust the government into a crisis. As supplies of salt and grit for icy roads ran dangerously low, the minister in charge of roads was on holidays. Dempsey's decision not to return from holidays immediately was a PR disaster and he came in for much criticism for his inaction. He faced pressure from rural Fianna Fáil backbenchers for insisting on reducing the blood-alcohol limits for driving, and he has to be admired for standing his ground on that as it shows he is still willing to go against the grain. He is innovative and his own man, despite annoying groups such as the backbenchers and the party's national executive.

Performance: 5

Pat Carey Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs

Viewed as a "fatherly figure" within Fianna Fáil during his tenure as government chief whip, Carey joked after his promotion on Tuesday, "I'm an overnight success after 25 years". He rarely puts a foot wrong in his media performances and his loyalty to Cowen and the party was undoubtedly a factor in his promotion. While Carey's loyalty is a key strength in the eyes of Cowen, it is also a weakness. This was evident in a disastrous defence of the government's handling of the Willie O'Dea affair on RTE's Morning Ireland the morning after O'Dea's resignation. Now has the challenge of proving himself as a minister in a government with an uncertain lifespan.

Performance: 5.5

John Gormley Minister for Environment and Local Government

Gormley stayed on at the department once the rotation issue was finally sorted out. Has taken a hammering in the media and from the opposition for being in government with Fianna Fáil but on the whole has performed with authority and calmness in extraordinarily difficult times. The widespread prediction that the Greens would prove flaky in government has – a few recent wobbles aside – proven wide of the mark and for that Gormley, as leader, deserves praise. The party has shown it has the stomach to stand over some difficult decisions in the national interest. Gormley has also done well for his party in the renegotiation of the programme for government and in the recent reshuffle. He has performed well in his own portfolio, exercising previously rarely-used powers to rein in rezoning councils. Progress on a badly-needed independent electoral commission has been slow, but the Dublin mayoral contest looks like it will happen in the autumn.

Performance: 6

Mary Harney Minister for Health and Children

The great survivor of Irish politics was never in any real danger of being dropped by Cowen, who clearly rates her and wants her at the cabinet table. She keeps a much lower profile now that the PDs are no more, but by all accounts she is a calming influence in government. She has faced serious criticism for her performance in health but any health minister would. Harney had a point when she said it was "unique" to Ireland for politicians to be blamed for medical errors. The former PD leader and 'mother of the house' has made progress in certain areas – particularly cancer treatment and pharmacy fees – but less in others, notably in A&E. She showed during the dispute with the pharmacists that she still has the stomach for battle. But was strongly criticised for the length of her recent trip to New Zealand which coincided with the revelations about X-rays at Tallaght Hospital.

Performance: 5

Eamon Ryan Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

One opposition TD makes the point that "Ryan has helped hold the Green party together over the last few years". He is the party's best media performer and is on top of his brief. In the weeks before the reshuffle he expressed his wish to stay in the same ministry as he seems to be genuinely passionate about it. Progress on growth in renewable energy sources is among his achievements to date. His performance has not been without flaws, and his now infamous "as I understand it" speech in defence of Willie O'Dea was dreadful. While he was landed with the task at short notice, questions remain over how he could possibly have been so far behind the curve on an issue, three days after it became a national news story.

Performance: 5.5

Mary Hanafin Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport

A politician to her fingertips, she put a brave face on last week, but she was undoubtedly one of the losers in the reshuffle. She had been tipped for an economic ministry but ended up in the department that has been the cabinet trapdoor in recent times. The department's budget has been badly hit by the economic downturn and, to add insult to injury, it has also lost the meatiest element of the sports portfolio, with responsibility for horse and greyhound racing moving to agriculture.

Hanafin has every reason to feel hard done by after her performance in defending the indefensible last December over the cuts in social welfare. She was seen as one of the cabinet wets who was lukewarm about the cutbacks in spending in the early days of the recession, but if that were so, she certainly made up for it by presiding over the social welfare cuts. Clearly, though, she is not a Cowen favourite.

Performance: 6

Micheál Martin Minister for Foreign Affairs

Martin is the Teflon minister. As the nation grapples with the worst economic crisis in its history, Martin is sitting in the one department that is largely recession-proof.

Despite having to come out against CPSU workers in the Passport Office last week, he has enjoyed a stress-free reign in Iveagh House. A deal in the North, securing the ratification of the Lisbon treaty in the second referendum and even holding rare 'good news' government press conferences – such as one in front of the government jet following the release of kidnapped Goal aid worker Sharon Commins – have all boded well for Martin and his department.

As Rome burns, Martin sits in the wings with a good chance of taking over the Fianna Fáil reins after the fire.

Performance: 5.5

Eamon ó Cuív Minister for Social Protection

Ó Cuív was among those tipped for demotion in the cabinet reshuffle, but ended up getting an effective promotion into the renamed Department of Social Protection, which now includes key parts of Fás. Those in the know in Fianna Fáil say there was never any chance of him being dropped by Cowen. While his qualities might not be immediately apparent to the national media – and he is not a particularly good media performer – they say he has done the business on the ground for the government along the western seaboard in his role as minister for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs. Ó Cuív is credited with playing a role in ensuring the various independent TDs in the west failed to get re-elected in 2007. Opposition TDs say he is very approachable and genuinely non-partisan. He will have to move outside his comfort zone in this new job.

Performance: 5

Tony Killeen Minister for Defence

Killeen is genuinely well liked across the house, where he is seen as eminently decent. His appointment was extremely well received, particularly given his recent successful battle against cancer. Very competent and a safe pair of hands, he also fills the geographical gap left by Willie O'Dea's departure. But he is a fairly low-profile kind of politician and not a particularly strong media performer. Will he provide the kind of va-va voom that the cabinet could do with?

Performance: Not on long enough to be rated