Saturday 14 December 2019

Kenny and Burton face off over post of jobs minister

New Labour leader wants to prise key role away from FG

Richard Bruton,TD, the Minister for Jobs,Enterprise and Innovation at Leinster House following the Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings yesterday. Picture: Tom Burke
Richard Bruton,TD, the Minister for Jobs,Enterprise and Innovation at Leinster House following the Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings yesterday. Picture: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor, Fionnan Sheahan and John Downing

THE Cabinet reshuffle is likely to be delayed as talks between Enda Kenny and Joan Burton have stalled.

Fine Gael and Labour Party sources are both suggesting to this morning that the reshuffle will not be until tomorrow.

The talks will resume later on today.

Ms Burton is in the Seanad today and Mr Kenny in the Dail for Leaders Questions.

The two leaders are also due to attend a meeting of the Economic Management Council later today.

Fine Gael sources said the atmosphere is quite good but indicated Mr Kenny was not yielding to Ms Burton's demands for Labour Cabinet positions.

"We're in no rush. Possession is nine tenths of the law," a source said.

Labour sources said the reshuffle was "likely" to be tomorrow.


The Taoiseach is trying to fend off the Tanaiste as she attempts to prise the jobs minister's post away from Fine Gael for the Labour Party.

Mr Kenny also wants to place a big emphasis on Health as the Coalition seeks to prioritise policies for the remainder of its term in power.

But the Taoiseach will face a Fine Gael backbench revolt if he retains Dr James Reilly as Health Minister. Richard Bruton remains the favourite to replace him.

Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan is being linked with a last-minute reprieve after previously being tipped to be dropped.

"There's a concerted effort by Deenihan's people for him to remain in Cabinet," one Fine Gael minister said.

Also on the Fine Gael side, junior minister Paschal Donohoe is said to be all but certain to be promoted, along with Simon Harris rising to the junior ministerial ranks.

But the main jockeying for position is around the Jobs portfolio, which Labour wants, but Fine Gael doesn't want to give up.

Mr Kenny and Ms Burton are understood to be examining options around splitting the Jobs portfolio, or moving the Trade element out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and boosting its importance.

A possibility being kicked about is recreating the Department of Tourism and Trade, a post Mr Kenny himself held in the Rainbow coalition in the 1990s.

The development would give both parties a minister with responsibility for job creation.

Fine Gael sources say Mr Kenny has rebutted Ms Burton's suggestions Labour would take over the Jobs post.

"He has said 'No' consistently since yesterday morning," a minister said.

Coalition sources did admit the talks between Mr Kenny and Ms Burton were taking longer than expected.


"The tone is different now. There's not exactly a meeting of minds. This is not as smooth as people thought it might be," a coalition source said.

"It's making progress, but it's slow. We would have preferred things to move faster. The discussions are centring around the reconfiguration of certain ministries and departments," a Labour source said.

Mr Kenny's focus on Health in the talks was viewed as a sign he will replace Dr Reilly as Health Minister.

Sources said Mr Kenny was adamant during the talks that health issues, especially the discontent surrounding medical card reviews, need to be resolved now.

On the Labour side, TDs close to Ms Burton last night said she was withholding information regarding the reshuffle so that it would not seep back to "old guard" ministers Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore.

The Tanaiste has made her mind up as to the Labour make-up of the Cabinet but is wary of a backlash, particularly from Mr Rabbitte.

As of last night, the Communications Minister was insisting that he still does not know whether he remain in Cabinet.

While some Fine Gael sources suggested Mr Rabbitte as a backbench TD would prove to be a problem for Ms Burton, sources close to her in the parliamentary party dismissed that.

Ms Burton and Mr Kenny spent several hours yesterday discussing areas such as housing, education and health. The lengthy period used to outline policies has delayed the final decisions surrounding the new Cabinet.

Also in the departmental reconfigurations, sources at Leinster House said serious consideration was being given to emphasising preparations for the 1916 centenary celebrations by giving responsibility to one minister and department.

One option would be to combine the roles of the current Department of Defence, given the Armed Forces' central role in celebrations, and an element of the Department of Arts & Heritage, which may be broken up.

Both coalition parties believe that a "feel-good dividend" can be achieved by showing that preparations are well advanced for suitable events to mark the Easter 1916 centenary.

One source said a flavour of the history and pageantry could be given at smaller associated historical commemorations ahead of an election expected in spring 2016, which would reflect well on the outgoing Government.

Irish Independent

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