Leo Varadkar set to spring a few surprises in first Dáil speech

New Fine Gael leader will set out his stall on Wednesday when he becomes taoiseach

Newly elected Fine Gael party leader Leo Varadkar  with party members. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Newly elected Fine Gael party leader Leo Varadkar with party members. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Those close to Leo Varadkar say he will soon spring a few surprises if, as expected, he becomes taoiseach on Wednesday. They say that at least some of his new ideas will be disclosed in his first Dáil speech after taking the job, where he will essentially set out his stall.

Already he has hinted at the kind of change that might be in store: a rainy-day fund announced by Michael Noonan in the last budget will be ditched before it gets off the ground; and he is also set to announce changes to health, housing and transport policy.

Varadkar has talked about the taoiseach assuming some of the overarching responsibilities for the health sector and there is also an idea floating around ministerial circles of the Department of Justice being divided to accommodate a Home Affairs department.

Then there was the idea of a “minister without portfolio” who would sit at the Cabinet table but would have no specific responsibility. That minister would also provide the link between Government and the Fine Gael parliamentary party. Political expediency has meant that at least some of those ideas will hit the cutting room floor.

Coveney role

Those wholesale changes will not be evident in the new Cabinet. All the Ministers who supported him received an undertaking they would be accommodated but not necessarily in the same role. With his leadership rival Simon Coveney assured of a very senior position, it would have been churlish of him to have dropped Coveney’s only senior supporter, Simon Harris, who still remains a rising star in Fine Gael despite the bruising experience of the Department of Health.

That essentially means there is scope to accommodate only two new senior ministers in the first Varadkar cabinet. And if that turns out to be the case, the two who will get the nod will be Eoghan Murphy, Varadkar’s campaign manager, and Michael Ring, who will be what has been described as “minister for the west”. A senior minister could also assume the role of chief whip, a move that would allow its present incumbent Regina Doherty assume responsibility for a department.

Minimalist

It’s certainly minimalist and continuity, compared with, say, what Albert Reynolds did in 1992 when he replaced most of the cabinet. By contrast, the junior ministerial ranks will allow Varadkar more scope. All the Coveney supporters will have to cede to those who backed the winner. That will mean demotion for Dara Murphy, David Stanton and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

Varadkar’s advisers have also explored the possibility of creating a fourth super junior minister, with a combined European Union and Brexit responsibility. That minister would be allowed sit at Cabinet without having voting rights.

Varadkar’s run-in to what will essentially be a confirmation vote on Wednesday was greatly helped by the announcement by the Independent Alliance on Sunday it would support his nomination.

So unlike last May, there will be no last-minute drama and uncertainty.

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