Sunday 21 January 2018

Colleagues eye job as Phil Hogan set for EU role

Eamon Gilmore
Eamon Gilmore

Daniel McConnell Political Correspondent

CABINET colleagues have already begun eyeing up Environment Minister Phil Hogan's job -- in the growing belief he will be moving on to become Ireland's next European Commissioner.

But Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's options for moving out of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the autumn cabinet reshuffle are being limited by Fine Gael's insistence it will not be swapping posts with the Labour Party.

Instead, Mr Gilmore will have to move to one of Labour's existing posts if he wants a more mainstream position that would keep him at home more.

Despite the current Irish Water controversy, the Department of the Environment is seen as a highly prestigious posting.

Ministers also feel that, between the introduction of the property tax, the reform of local government and the setting up of Irish Water, much of the painful heavy lifting will have been completed in the Department by the time the reshuffle happens.

Mr Gilmore is said to be seeking a move out of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and it has been suggested that he could move to Environment -- a portfolio he covered before becoming Labour leader.

But Fine Gael has made it clear it is opposed to switching ministerial portfolios with Labour.

As a result, Mr Gilmore's anticipated move out of Iveagh House into a domestic ministry would have to happen within the existing pool of Labour ministries.

Previous talk of a swap with Jobs Minister Richard Bruton has also been ruled out.

"I think we accept now that Eamon staying in Foreign Affairs has become a stick to beat him with, and he has to move. If Fine Gael don't allow a switch, then it puts the spotlight on Ruairi Quinn, who looks vulnerable," said one Labour figure.


Mr Quinn, at 67, is in a department that usually doesn't keep its minister for a full term, and his age would make him a likely candidate for departure in a reshuffle, which would allow Junior Minister Alex White to become a senior minister.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney are seen as the two most likely successors to Mr Hogan in Environment when Taoiseach Enda Kenny reshuffles his Cabinet later this year. It is also believed that James Reilly will not be moved out of Health, despite much speculation over the Christmas period that his job was in jeopardy.

"Given everything, Enda feels he has to give him the full five years to prove himself. He is safe, barring any disasters," one minister said.

And although he will turn 71 later this year, Finance Minister Michael Noonan is viewed at this stage as a definite to remain in position for the lifetime of the Government.

In the event of Mr Hogan taking up the EU Commissioner post as expected, Mr Kenny will have the chance to promote one of his junior ministers to the front bench.

With Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes likely to run in the European elections and the departure of former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, there is speculation Mr Kenny may elevate Ms Creighton's replacement, Paschal Donohoe, to the Cabinet.

Irish Independent

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