Varadkar will reshuffle his Cabinet by this summer

‘The logical time to reshuffle the Cabinet is after the Local and European elections’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already carried out two mini reshuffles following the resignations of Frances Fitzgerald and  Denis Naughten. Photograph: The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already carried out two mini reshuffles following the resignations of Frances Fitzgerald and Denis Naughten. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he will carry out his first major Cabinet reshuffle by July this year, coinciding with the second anniversary of his election as Fine Gael leader.

Mr Varadkar left most of his predecessor Enda Kenny’s Ministers in situ after becoming Taoiseach in 2016 but promised his supporters in the parliamentary party who expected promotion that he would carry out greater changes in the next reshuffle.

The Taoiseach has previously indicated the immediate aftermath of the local and European elections would be a natural point for a reshuffle.

In an interview with the media over Christmas, he confirmed the reshufflewill take place at that time.

“I’ve always said the logical time to reshuffle the Cabinet, to reshuffle your team, is after the Local and European elections.

“That was done on the last occasion by Enda Kenny as taoiseach. I’d be minded to do the same. There’ll be a chance to reshuffle the team then, perhaps in June or July. That would give them a chance over the summer to read into new briefs if they get them. But we need to get there first.

Mr Varadkar refused to talk about individuals saying it would not be fair. But the general view is that his closest supporter in Cabinet, Eoghan Murphy, will expect to be moved from the difficult portfolio of Housing while a move might also be on he cards of Minister for Health Simon Harris.

He has already carried out two mini reshuffles following the resignations of former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and former minister for communications Denis Naughten.

Turning to the local elections, Mr Varadkar said he wanted Fine Gael to become the major party of local government, a status it lost to Fianna Fáil in the 2014 elections.

“We’d like to regain that position, [and] become the main party of local government, holding onto all of our existing seats in the European Parliament - we have four - and maybe challenging for a fifth one.

“But holding four would be the target there. We’ve also set a particular target that at least one third of our candidates will be female, which is a total that we’re determined to press ahead with that.”

Asked did he plan to have any referendums this year, he said the priority was plebiscites for directly elected executive mayors in Cork, Galway and Limerick.

He said there were also plans to have referendums on divorce and also on extending the right to vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside of the State.

Those referendums will be likely held on the same days as the European and local elections. He also said there were further referendums planned for later in the year.

“There’s one caveat. We were going to have the referendum on women in the home. That was to be held against the Presidential elections. We decided not to go ahead with that; we didn’t have decent cross-party consensus on what to do, and the Joint Oireachtas Committee has now come back to us with a proposed wording.

“If that wording is acceptable to the Attorney General - if he’s able to say to us that it means what it says it means; you know you always have to be very careful about what you write into the Constitution - we may substitute that for the referendum on divorce instead.

“Because it is my general view that if you have political consensus around a referendum, you have a much better chance of that passing - it’s a little-known fact that there is no referendum in Ireland that has passed in 40 years, that didn’t have the support or tacit support of the two major parties - so that’s something you always need to bear in mind, [and] so we may make that switch.”

“But we are determined to go ahead with the one to extend the right to vote to Irish citizens outside of Ireland in presidential elections. It means that when we elect the next president in seven years’ time, the presidency will be a president for the whole Irish nation, for all Irish citizens, living within the State but also those who live in Northern Ireland and those who live in other parts of the world,” he said.