Coveney ‘open to move’ from Department of Housing

Post of tánaiste and minister for foreign affairs possible options, says source

Simon Coveney:  wants a position that would allow him to take on “big briefs” and would make him “a very powerful member of government”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Simon Coveney: wants a position that would allow him to take on “big briefs” and would make him “a very powerful member of government”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Simon Coveney is open to a move from the Department of Housing in Leo Varadkar’s government, with the positions of tánaiste and minister for foreign affairs mooted as possible landing spots, sources close to the Minister have said.

“He’d be open to a move,” said a source close to the Cork South Central TD, who lost the Fine Gael leadership contest to Mr Varadkar. “We’ll have to see what’s offered.”

Mr Coveney said he wanted a position that would allow him to take on “big briefs” and would make him “a very powerful member of government”.

“I am someone who wants to take on big challenges and to do what I can for the country,” he told Cork’s Red FM on Tuesday.

When pressed on whether he will be tánaiste, Mr Coveney said: “If that works out, great.”

Sources said Mr Coveney would consider a move away from the Department of Housing, with the Department of Foreign Affairs one option.

Significant effort

The next 18 months, the expected remaining lifetime of this Government, will see Brexit and Northern Ireland require a significant effort.

Other prospects understood to be under consideration include the Department of Public Expenditure, with a possible focus on infrastructural development, or remaining in the Department of Housing.

The exact configuration of the Department of Finance has yet to be decided. Paschal Donohoe is tipped to become both Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure in advance of a merging of the two departments at a later stage.

The Department of Justice is seen as the least likely option for Mr Coveney. The next minister for justice will be constrained in policy terms because of the Commission on the Future of Policing, reducing its attractiveness as a posting.

The commission is tasked with examining the future of the Garda and will not report until September 2018, just before the confidence-and-supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expires.

Fine Gael insiders say a “steady hand” should take on the justice job, with Charlie Flanagan or Richard Bruton mentioned. It is speculated that Frances Fitzgerald, the current Minister, will move but remain in Cabinet.

Leadership contest

Mr Coveney also expressed his view to Mr Varadkar that Minister for Health Simon Harris should remain in Cabinet.

Mr Varadkar last night met members of the Independent Alliance to recommit to the programme for government ahead of an expected Dáil vote for taoiseach next week.

The alliance wants more free votes, as well as a commitment that the universal social charge is phased out, before it votes for him as taoiseach.

They also want promises outlined in the programme for government speeded up and a commitment to phasing out the USC adhered to.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross said free votes should be granted on “issues which are not in the programme for government and have not been binding under Cabinet responsibility”.

Mr Varadkar will on Wednesday meet Independent Ministers Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone and Clare TD Dr Michael Harty, who is not a member of the Government but supports it on a case-by-case basis. Mr Varadkar will also meet Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

When asked if Mr Varadkar would be speaking to Independent TD Michael Lowry, his spokesman said it was “highly unlikely”. “I’m not aware of any plans,” the spokesman said.