Reshuffle and budgetary restraints prey on Fine Gael minds
Decision on Ireland’s next EU commissioner has also to be made
Phil Hogan: “The Taoiseach will make all these decisions”
As the Coalition approaches the mid-point in its five-year mandate, Enda Kenny has signalled that his administration will run its full course until the spring of 2016. The Taoiseach has also declared that he will reshuffle the Cabinet at the “back-half” of its term.
Although nothing will happen before next year, Fine Gael Ministers have expressed diverging views as to whether the move would come before or after the local and European elections next May.
The reality is that the decision has not yet been made and will be dependent on events. Asked yesterday if he had already discussed his plans with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Mr Kenny said this was something he planned to do.
A line of variables are in play, among them the nomination of Ireland’s next EU commissioner, the preferences of an ever-tense Labour Party and the response to the October budget.
The clear sense among Kenny’s parliamentary lieutenants is he will opt for a very minimalist approach on the Fine Gael side. To name but two senior figures, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney are well-entrenched in their respective jobs. However, there could well be movement in portfolios such as transport and environment.
At the same time, Labour’s control of five Cabinet seats means the task is not exclusively in Kenny’s gift.
Assuming the next commissioner is a current Minister, selection for the Brussels seat provides a clear opening to reshuffle the deck. The sense is that this nomination also remains to be pinned down and will have to be done in concert with Labour.
Fine Gael has clear designs on the post, the argument being that it is the major party in the Government and has rock-solid ties with the dominant centre-right European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament.
The real power here is with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems poised to win a third term in the election next Sunday. The argument is therefore made that Fine Gael would be better placed to secure a decent portfolio. The party has not had a commissioner since Peter Sutherland held the powerful competition commissionership in the 1980s.
Although speculation inevitably centres on Minister for Environment Phil Hogan, he was giving nothing away yesterday. “The Taoiseach will make all these decisions,” he said.
An alternative scenario centres on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, who casts himself in the European mould but whose nomination would require Fine Gael to cede the post to Labour. Another theory centres on the post going to Mr Gilmore by way of an escape route should his fortunes crash.