Cabinet reshuffle expected to have ‘some surprises’

Ministerial casualties not ruled out as Varadkar to make ‘conservative’ changes

Leo Varadkar appointed Simon Coveney as his deputy leader. Photograph: Collins

Leo Varadkar appointed Simon Coveney as his deputy leader. Photograph: Collins

 

Leo Varadkar is considering restructuring the Government to improve how the minority administration operates and to prepare Fine Gael for a push towards “at least” 65 seats at the next election.

The restructuring is not expected to include widespread changes among the members of the Cabinet, but changes to department structures and a reassigning of portfolios.

Sources did not rule out ministerial casualties but cautioned that it will be a “conservative reshuffle” that would still contain “some surprises”. His chief concerns are understood to focus on having regional and gender balance across the Cabinet.

It is understood that although preparations were continuing on Tuesday night for Mr Varadkar’s cabinet, he is considering considerably strengthening the Department of the Taoiseach.

Sources said this could involve the appointment of another senior minister in the department, so alongside the taoiseach and the chief whip there would be another Cabinet minister to drive the Government’s agenda and liaise with other groups in the Dáil.

The feasibility of this plan was still being examined on Monday night and an alternative is understood to be the radical strengthening of the role of chief whip, and empowering assistant whips to assist with Dáil business.

Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy, Mr Varadkar’s campaign manager in the Fine Gael leadership contest, was being tipped for this role by sources in Leinster House. This would likely mean the promotion of Regina Doherty, the current Chief Whip, to full ministerial rank. The person who holds the position would also prepare Fine Gael for the next election, aiming to improve upon its current 50 seats. Sources stressed this does not mean there will be an election anytime soon but that preparations must accelerate.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe is expected to assume the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance in addition to his current role, although the two departments will remain separate.

Disappoint

At a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Mr Varadkar appointed Simon Coveney, who he defeated in the recent contest, as his deputy leader. Mr Varadkar also apologised in advance to those he would disappoint with his appointments, saying he will not be able to give jobs to everyone he wants to.

Mr Coveney is tipped to become Minister for Foreign Affairs. Sources said this meant that Frances Fitzgerald is likely to stay as Tánaiste, but move from the Department of Justice.

If Mr Coveney takes over at the Department of Foreign Affairs, in order to focus on the Brexit negotiations, Charlie Flanagan will be moved, with the Department of Justice mentioned as a possibility.

Minister for Jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor is also tipped to be moved but remain in Cabinet. Mr Murphy has also been linked with the Department of Jobs.

Michael Ring, the veteran Mayo TD, is also widely tipped to be promoted to a senior ministry with responsibility for rural affairs.

Minister for Health Simon Harris, who backed Mr Coveney, is expected to stay in his position. It was announced yesterday that Attorney General Máire Whelan is taking up a position on the Court of Appeal.

A spokeswoman for the Independent Alliance said Minister for Transport Shane Ross told Cabinet he disapproved of the way judges were appointed.

Ms Fitzgerald had sought a list of candidates from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) that would be suitable to fill the Court of Appeal vacancy but her department said the board was not in a position to recommend a person for appointment. The Government then nominated Ms Whelan.

Frank Callanan, who has been a Fine Gael trustee, is tipped as a replacement for Ms Whelan with Seamus Woulfe, a Fine Gael-linked senior counsel, mentioned as an outside bet.