Sunday 27 May 2018

Exclusive: Rabbitte to be sacked in purge of old Cabinet

Gilmore and Rabbitte to join Quinn on backbenches, ministers vie for jobs

Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte
Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte

Anne Harris, Philip Ryan and John Drennan

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte will definitely be sacked in this week's Cabinet reshuffle, the Sunday Independent has learned. The new Labour leader and Tanaiste, Joan Burton, will assert her authority with a clearout of former Democratic Left ministers. Following the resignation last week of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, Ms Burton is to remove Mr Rabbitte and her predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, from Cabinet.

However, in a determined rearguard action yesterday, Mr Rabbitte dismissed suggestions that his career was over: "I'm not accepting I'm out," he said. "Political writers don't make the decisions," he said. Mr Rabbitte also rejected claims that Ms Burton would clear out the "Democrat Left Gang".

However, the Sunday Independent can confirm that Mr Rabbitte will be sacked, bringing to an end an often controversial career which has spanned 30 years.

Minister for State Kathleen Lynch, who has been tipped for a full Cabinet position, yesterday said Mr Rabbitte's departure would be a loss, as he is a "hugely talented" minister.

The hopes of Ms Lynch for a senior Cabinet position may be thwarted by her Cork colleague, the runner-up for the deputy leadership, Junior Minister Sean Sherlock.

Mr Sherlock has let it be known he believes he is first in line for promotion, with a preference for the Education portfolio. Ms Lynch said she did not know where 
her own political future lay, but believes Ms Burton has "figured out" who she intends to include in Cabinet.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the new Tanaiste will meet tomorrow to discuss the composition of the new Cabinet.

Yesterday it was also learned that senior figures from Fine Gael and Labour 
are at loggerheads over the crucial Cabinet portfolio of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

A senior Labour figure yesterday said there is a "need and desire" among the party to secure the Jobs position because it is now seen as a 'good news' portfolio due to the uplift in the economy.

But Fine Gael is resisting the push to replace Fine Gael's Jobs minister, Richard Bruton, with new Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly.

One senior source noted that Mr Kelly is expected to ''play a similar enforcer role to Phil Hogan, minus the cute hoor thing obviously''.

"Everything is on the table, including switching ministries, and the EU commissionership has to be brought into the mix too," he said.

But while Mr Kelly is keen to be appointed to the Jobs post, a senior Fine Gael Cabinet minister warned yesterday, ''They will have to make a really good offer to secure the Jobs portfolio".

The Sunday Independent has also learned that the EU commissionership for Phil Hogan would not be a sufficient trade-off for the Jobs portfolio.

In return, Fine Gael would want the influential Public Expenditure and Reform portfolio. ''Labour can have Jobs if they give us Brendan Howlin's Public Expenditure post," a Fine Gael minister said yesterday. This outcome would give Fine Gael full control of the Department of Finance.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach was warned by the senior Fine Gael backbencher John Deasy that Mr Kenny could face an early election if he is too submissive in his dealings with Labour.

"If anyone in Fine Gael thinks I and others will tolerate the making of financial concessions to keep Labour sweet they will find out very quickly we would prefer an election," Mr Deasy said. "If Labour starts putting a gun to our head every second week they can take their chances with Sinn Fein''.

Meanwhile, within Labour, Junior Health Minister Alex White is engaged in a desperate struggle to secure a senior Ministerial post.

In an example of her welldisguised ruthless political style, Ms Burton has consistently refused to say whether Mr White would secure a seat in Cabinet irrespective of the result. Although it is believed she will be magnanimous in victory.

Besides, the strategic necessity for Labour to have more than one senior Minister in Dublin means Mr White is still in contention.

But senior Labour party sources, when asked about Mr White's chances warned, ''Alex's position is very precarious''.

Within Labour, the embattled Mr White is facing serious competition from a number of contenders. Speculation is growing that the uptonow low-profile Carlow Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan is contending strongly for promotion to the top table.

The Taoiseach is also facing no shortage of difficulties when it comes to his own Cabinet choices. He is believed to be planning a major reconfiguration of Departments such as Arts, Culture, Health and Justice/Defence.

He, is also facing serious backbench unrest if he does not engage in urgent surgery within the Cabinet.

One FG source warned: ''Enda knows Reilly has to go from Health, there is no doubt about that, if he stays there would be a split, it wouldn't be tolerated''.

Even this, however, may not be enough to reverse the decline in Mr Kenny's authority within Fine Gael.

A long-term opponent of Mr Kenny warned ''when individuals start talking about the Deputy Leader then the leader is next. Enda knows what is coming, the guy he hand-picked to be his Deputy is on thin ice, once he falls through who will be next'.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section