Sunday 21 January 2018

Labour eyes up Fine Gael jobs in cabinet reshuffle

Joan Burton, Phil Hogan, James Reilly and Ruairi Quinn
Joan Burton, Phil Hogan, James Reilly and Ruairi Quinn

Fionnan Sheahan, Group Political Editor

THE Labour Party is eyeing up cabinet positions held by Fine Gael in the reshuffle later this year.

The junior coalition party wants all the ministerial posts to be up for grabs.

Labour is willing to give Education to Fine Gael and is weighing up the Jobs, Health and even Agriculture jobs.

But Fine Gael figures have been insisting the reshuffle will only see changes in personnel with the two parties limited to movement within their existing portfolios.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's options for getting out of the Department of Foreign Affairs are extremely limited if Labour are stuck with their own existing positions.

Now senior Labour Party figures say they want a more comprehensive reshuffle with all positions "open for negotiation".

"You can't box ministries off," a senior party source said.

Some Labour TDs want the party to take the Health portfolio from Dr James Reilly, as the running of the department is a constant source of friction between the parties.

Joan Burton and even Mr Gilmore have been linked to the post.

But Fine Gael is showing no appetite for removing Dr Reilly, the party's deputy leader.

"It's not up to us to pick Fine Gael ministers. I think they would welcome a shot at Education," a senior Labour source said. "Why not have the first Labour Party minister for Agriculture? Health we have held before and would like to again.

"I've heard TDs say it about Health. Our own TDs get frustrated about Reilly.".

Labour agrees with Fine Gael on the introduction of Universal Health Insurance, but disagrees over the management of the department.

Fine Gael continues to make it clear it is opposed to switching ministerial portfolios with Labour.

Senior Fine Gael figures have claimed it would be disruptive for the parties to be swapping portfolios – as the departments were agreed in the negotiation of the Programme for Government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's party is playing hard-ball with Labour ahead of the reshuffle.

"Sure it's politics, you know," a senior Fine Gael source said.

Another Labour source said there was no question the reshuffle could be limited to the portfolios assigned to the two parties when they came into power after the last general election.

"We'll have to wait and see," a party source said.


But Labour is also fencing off certain posts it holds, including the Department of Public Expenditure, which will stay with Brendan Howlin.

"We are not going to be giving up our budgetary portfolio. I would be shocked if Brendan Howlin was moved. He is seen as vital in the Labour Party. He has had a much underrated part in the economic recovery of the country."

Strangely, one of the positions Labour is not eyeing up at the moment is Environment, despite speculation linking Phil Hogan with the European Commissioner's post.

But Labour feels the heavy lifting has been done there and the job doesn't hold many attractions.

"In fairness to Phil, a lot has been done in Environment. Irish Water, the property tax, reform of local government. It's not clear what you'd do to it. There's not a lot of reform to be done there before the next general election."

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is viewed as almost certain to be dropped from Cabinet. The doubts over Super Junior Minister Jan O'Sullivan running in the next general election are also seeing her linked with the drop and there are mixed views on Pat Rabbitte's chances.

Junior health ministers Alex White and Kathleen Lynch are the favourites for promotion, followed by fellow junior ministers Sean Sherlock and Alan Kelly.

Mr Quinn would be Labour's obvious choice as European Commissioner and has a long-standing record in European Affairs.

But Labour is also concerned that going for the European Commission post would result in a concession elsewhere in the cabinet reshuffle, where the party would have to pay a high price.

Irish Independent

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