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Monday 20 November 2017

Cabinet reshuffle on cards as James Reilly in the firing line

Gilmore set to move out of Foreign Affairs into more high-profile post next autumn

Minister for health James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Minister for health James Reilly. Photo: Collins

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

A GOVERNMENT reshuffle is on the cards -- with big guns such as Eamon Gilmore and James Reilly likely to move departments.

Ministers have nine months to prove their worth, with a rejig of positions anticipated in the autumn -- soon after Ireland ends its EU Presidency.

The reshuffle will see the Labour Party's hostility towards Health Minister James Reilly come to a head as the junior coalition party is set to demand he is removed from the sensitive department.

Dr Reilly continues to be a festering sore between the coalition parties and the weak link in the Cabinet.

And Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is almost certain to move to a more frontline portfolio in the coming shake-up. But there will also be question marks over the so-called 'Dad's Army' of veteran ministers currently in Cabinet, including Michael Noonan and Ruairi Quinn.

Rumours circulating in political circles of a March reshuffle have been rejected by senior government sources, with September now regarded as the most likely date.

It will be the halfway point of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Coalition's term in office, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny is tipped to shuffle the deck.

The upcoming European Union Presidency means any changes before the summer are unlikely -- barring a crisis.

"I think that's a bit early, especially with the EU Presidency to come. People have been preparing for months and will be chairing meetings and so on," a senior coalition source said.

But leaving it until after the local and European elections in 2014 would give ministers only 18 months to make a mark in their new departments.

"Next autumn, that's the timeframe that would be more realistic – barring any unforeseen events," added the senior source. "I think that is the most logical timeframe. It would be an unusual Cabinet that wasn't changed around."

The prediction of a reshuffle next autumn is backed up by a number of other ministers.

The performance of individual ministers will come under intense scrutiny this week as the Government defends a motion of no confidence in the Dail.


But after the Budget furore dies down, it is expected to be another few months before changes are made at Cabinet level.

Ministers in both parties now believe Mr Gilmore will seek to move when the reshuffle comes around.

"After the EU Presidency, the argument will be that Eamon Gilmore has done the job in foreign affairs," a minister said.

"He will go for an economic portfolio or one with an enlarged budget. Joan Burton won't be moved."

However, despite the anticipation of some change, widespread promotions to the Cabinet table are not anticipated at this point.

There will be pressure from the Labour camp for Dr Reilly to be moved from the key portfolio of health after a series of controversies.

Aside from his failure to manage the budget in the health sector, he also continues to be listed as a debt defaulter with 'Stubbs Gazette'.

Labour has held back from demanding his resignation, believing it is up to Fine Gael to decide what to do with its own ministers.

A highly speculative scenario mentioned by a Cabinet minister involved Labour and Fine Gael swapping the health and education portfolios.

But they added: "You can move Reilly, but who would want to go into it (the Department of Health)?"

Labour's hierarchy has failed to hide their distrust for Dr Reilly.

As far back as a year ago, senior party figures were flagging the Health Minister as being a problem.

After their continued criticism of his handling of the health portfolio, Labour's credibility would be enormously damaged if Dr Reilly remained in the post after a reshuffle.

But Labour is not in a position to dictate terms to Fine Gael – as it discovered during the Budget negotiations.

However, Dr Reilly has gone through a raft of recent controversies, including:

* The uncontrolled health budget.

* Being the first minister to be embarrassingly listed in 'Stubbs Gazette'.

* The resignation of the HSE chief executive.

* The botched health cutbacks and U-turn on disability allowances.

* The primary care centre fiasco.

* Becoming the first minister in this Government to face a motion of no confidence.

* The bitter resignation of junior health minister Roisin Shortall.

* The emergency budget in the Department of Health.

Mr Kenny had to speak with Mr Quinn and Dr Reilly last week amid deep tensions between the pair.

Mr Quinn has refused to deny he said Dr Reilly was "not up to the job" and Labour Party Cabinet ministers shared the concerns about him.

Irish Independent

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