Tuesday 26 September 2017

Brussels move likely to spark Cabinet reshuffle

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Michael Brennan

A MOVE to Brussels by Ruairi Quinn or Phil Hogan as European Commissioner is viewed as the potential spark for a Cabinet reshuffle next summer.

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny will only make "minimal changes" at senior ministerial level, instead choosing to bring in new blood at junior ministerial level.

Mr Kenny's confirmation of a reshuffle has managed to utterly distract from the furore over Fine Gael's rebel TDs.

Names being tipped for promotion include junior finance minister Brian Hayes and Lucinda Creighton's replacement as European affairs minister, Paschal Donohoe.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is viewed at this stage as a definite to remain in position. A minister said Mr Noonan is respected by colleagues and research shows that he is highly regarded by the public.

"He'll find it hard to drop any of the Blues (Fine Gael ministers). There will be more movement of the juniors than the seniors," a minister told the Irish Independent.

However, there were differences within the Coalition over how the reshuffle would work, with Fine Gael not wanting to switch ministerial portfolios with the Labour Party.

Instead, the two parties would retain their current allocation of departments and only make changes within those respective positions.

Limits on movement would restrict Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's ability to change from his current role in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Senior Fine Gael figures said it would be "disruptive" for the parties to be swapping portfolios – as the departments to be taken up by Fine Gael and Labour were agreed in the negotiation of the Programme for Government.

AWKWARD

"It gets awkward when you start changing portfolios," a senior Fine Gael source said.

But there were mixed messages emerging last night about whether such a restriction would remain in place. "I think it will be open for discussion," a senior Labour source said.

Although a reshuffle after the local and European elections is by far the most likely scenario, Mr Kenny is believed to be weighing up whether to go earlier.

The date of the Budget being brought forward helps, with the possibility of a reshuffle in the new year.

The Taoiseach also didn't definitively rule out being considered for a plum EU job, but he did signal he wouldn't take up the European Council Presidency, if offered.

Within Fine Gael and Labour, Mr Hogan and Mr Quinn are being mentioned as the favourites to become Ireland's next European Commissioner.

The commissioner has to be nominated by the Government next summer, ahead of the end of the term of Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

Mr Hogan, significantly, isn't ruling himself out of contention, while Mr Quinn is viewed as the "obvious person and leading candidate on the Labour side".

Labour was caught off guard by Mr Kenny's reshuffle comments, with a senior figure saying the Tanaiste had no prior warning of his intentions.

Mr Gilmore has left room for manoeuvre by refusing to rule out a move from the Department of Foreign Affairs – while defending his achievements there in boosting exports and restoring the country's reputation.

"He will always have that option to move," another Labour source said.

But even though many of the new Labour TDs are anxious to get promoted before the Government's term ends, there is no sign of senior ministers, such as Mr Quinn and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, stepping aside voluntarily in any reshuffle.

"They have given no signal to anybody that they are going to step down," the source said.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is expected to be left in place in the reshuffle given his key role as one of the four ministers in the Economic Management Council.

Despite the tensions between Mr Gilmore and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, the prospect of him dropping her is considered unthinkable due to her status in the party and popularity with the grassroots.

Irish Independent

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