Major cabinet reshuffle is expected by Easter break
Speculation mounts Cullen will quit
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is now understood to be planning a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle in the coming months, possibly around the Easter break.
It has emerged Tourism Minister Martin Cullen is at the centre of speculation about resigning his post due to health problems linked to a back complaint.
Such a move would give Mr Cowen wide scope to make more changes in his line-up.
Mr Cowen yesterday heightened expectations of a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle in the fallout from the resignation of Defence Minister Willie O'Dea.
Mr Cullen is believed to be in so much pain he is unable to sit through cabinet meetings and has to stand up for parts.
After recent medical treatment, the minister is said to have problems sitting down for prolonged periods.
Colleagues say his deteriorating back complaint is the reason he is now using a walking stick.
But dismissing the speculation, the minister's spokesperson said he had no intention of resigning and his back problem was not an impediment to doing his work.
"The minister isn't stepping down. He was appointed by An Taoiseach and is continuing to serve. He has a back problem, like many people across the country, and he is getting on with his job," the spokesperson said.
Government sources say Mr Cowen is preparing for more changes, beyond the defence portfolio, relatively soon. And there will be a shake-up of responsibilities assigned to departments, with a greater focus on economic policy.
"There is an agreement there will be a little work done on wider portfolios. If the Taoiseach is going to bring freshness, he has to have two or three new additions. You can make a case for everybody -- politically and geographically," a source said.
In the event of ministers being dropped, the spotlight will fall on Mr Cullen, so he may decide to resign in advance, a senior Fianna Fail source said.
"If he got the feeling he was not part of the new team, it might be a good way out," the source said.
Mr Cowen is under pressure from Fianna Fail backbenchers to carry out a radical reshuffle of the Cabinet.
Apart from Mr Cullen, ministers believed to be under pressure to survive include Health Minister Mary Harney and Community Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv, although both have worthy calls on being retained.
"It all depends on when the Taoiseach is going to make the changes. The wider reshuffle is going to come in a matter of months anyway," the source said.
A terse Mr Cowen would not be drawn yesterday on whether he would fill the Defence Minister's position this week or if he would opt for a wider reshuffle of his Cabinet.
"I said that I would retain the Department of Defence for the present and that's my intention but I wouldn't be signalling anything beyond that," he said.
"I published the [resignation] letters and Mr O'Dea came to the regrettable conclusion that he felt that where he to stay on in government it wouldn't be conducive to the stability to the Government.
"He's outlined his position and I've published it and I've published my response."
Green Party Senator Dan Boyle insisted his party did not demand a "head on a plate" or present an ultimatum seeking Mr O'Dea's resignation because they weren't a "macho" party.
Meanwhile, the seven Fianna Fail backbenchers who missed a vote in the Dail last week, leaving the Government needing the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle, are expected to get a dressing down today.