Saturday 20 January 2018

Harris to survive in Health while Coveney named deputy leader

Honoured: Simon Coveney is new deputy leader of Fine Gael. Picture: Tom Burke
Honoured: Simon Coveney is new deputy leader of Fine Gael. Picture: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Health Minister Simon Harris is expected to survive a Cabinet reshuffle after "serious campaigning" by Simon Coveney on his behalf.

Leo Varadkar last night warned TDs that many of them will be disappointed by his ministerial appointments because there simply aren't enough jobs to keep everybody happy.

However, the Irish Independent understands the incoming Taoiseach will leave Mr Harris in Cabinet after talks with Mr Coveney, who is to become Fine Gael's new deputy leader.

Mr Varadkar told a meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators that his leadership rival is to take over the position from Senator James Reilly.

The move led to immediate speculation from ministerial colleagues that Mr Coveney is set to lose out on the position of Tánaiste in today's Cabinet reshuffle. And a well-placed source told the Irish Independent: "Coveney had to lose out somewhere because he put a lot of effort into saving somebody else's skin."

In a statement after the party meeting, Mr Varadkar paid tribute to his deputy leader, saying: "Simon and I will work together to guide the participation by Fine Gael in the Government, and reform and modernise the Fine Gael Party in the years ahead."

Mr Coveney, who won the popular vote in the leadership contest, said he was "honoured" to take up the role.


"I look forward to working with the new leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar, and believe that I can bring a strong focus and energy to the party from the grassroots members through to local councillors, and up to the parliamentary party," he said.

Mr Coveney is understood to be angling to be Foreign Affairs Minister in the reshuffle - but the incumbent Charlie Flanagan has been making a strong argument that the political upheaval in Northern Ireland and Britain means he should remain in the position.

Mr Varadkar has not briefed any ministers on their promotion prospects - but there is a high level of expectation within the party that outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny's constituency colleague Michael Ring will take a seat at Cabinet.

"There has to be a minister from the west of Ireland and Michael Ring looks to be in pole position," said a minister.

Regina Doherty and Eoghan Murphy are the two other names being tipped for promotion, while Paschal Donohoe is almost certain to take the reigns in finance.

Read More: Whelan move clears the way for FG to choose new Attorney General

At last night's meeting, Mr Varadkar also warned his colleagues not to book summer holidays yet as he may request the Dáil to sit a week later than expected.

It was anticipated that the House would break for the summer on July 13, but the new leader said extra time may be required to pass legislation.

The Irish Independent understands Mr Varadkar will use his first Dáil speech as Taoiseach to set a theme of a 'Republic of Opportunities'.

Sources indicated the Dublin West TD will talk about a wish to ensure everybody in society has equal rights and freedoms.

He is also expected to address the issue of Brexit and will talk about the need for Ireland to "catch up" when it comes to spending on infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is waiting to see the make-up of the new Cabinet before deciding on his own frontbench reshuffle.

"If he does reallocate portfolios we have ideas on that ourselves. Some of them are in our manifesto," Mr Martin said.

Irish Independent

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