Cullen ready to deliver his resignation within days
FF hopeful he will stay on as TD
Tourism Minister Martin Cullen is expected to resign this week, maybe as early as today or tomorrow, clearing a second cabinet place for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Mr Cowen is also understood to be adopting a hardline stance with the Green Party on its demands for a second junior minister.
But Fianna Fail will be hoping Mr Cullen will signal his intention to see out the remainder of this Dail term on the backbenches, rather than giving up his seat and sparking a by-election in Waterford.
The Taoiseach is believed to be planning to announce his reshuffle in a fortnight's time, after his return from the US for St Patrick's Day.
Mr Cullen's worsening back complaint saw him admitted to hospital for several days last week, as he missed the cabinet meeting and an important tourism conference.
His decision to stand down will also spare Mr Cowen the acrimony of having to drop him in the forthcoming reshuffle.
Along with the resignation of former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, it gives Mr Cowen two slots to fill in his Cabinet.
Mr Cullen wanted to meet Mr Cowen last week to resign from the Cabinet. But Mr Cowen wasn't in Government Buildings on Monday, as he was travelling to engagements in the midlands and the west.
The minister has written his resignation letter to Mr Cowen and will deliver it this week, probably in person.
The Taoiseach is in Dublin today for the visit of the president of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor), Dr Jose Ramos Horta.
Fianna Fail sources said last night that Mr Cullen would formally stand down this week, possibly today or tomorrow.
But there is a hint of speculation that he might also resign as a TD.
"We are all expecting he is going to resign his seat at Government because of his health situation. And I don't think anyone is thinking he's going to re-contest in the next General Election," a party source said.
Meanwhile, Mr Cowen is thus-far resisting the Green Party's claim to a second junior ministry, coalition sources said.
To save the embarrassment of the junior coalition party, he may be lining up a fig leaf of allowing a third member of the Greens to sit at the cabinet table as a 'super junior minister'.
In his talks with Environment Minister John Gormley, Mr Cowen is believed to be politely adopting the stance that the Green Party gave up its right to a second junior minister when it lead the charge for a reduction in ministers last year.
But Mr Gormley is recounting his party's deal with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that the Greens would get a second junior minister halfway through the lifetime of the coalition.
The Greens' stance is also weakened by revelations of an internal pact on the rotation of ministerial positions.