Friday 19 January 2018

Taoiseach and Joan Burton shuffle the pack in private

Party leaders spend eight hours discussing shape of new Cabinet without any advisers by their side

Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office. Photo: Mark Condren
Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

John Downing, Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

Negotiations on a major government re-shuffle – expected to see up to six changes in the senior ranks – will resume today between the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton.

The two party leaders met in private for eight hours yesterday to discuss new government priorities and the shape and timing of the Cabinet changes.

In keeping with Mr Kenny's desire to keep details of the reshuffle confidential, he met with Ms Burton without any advisers present in a room near the Taoiseach's office in Government Buildings.

The meeting of just the two leaders meant there was no leaking of details. The discussions were described as policy focused with decisions on choreography also to be decided. The pair began their talks at 10.10am and, with only a few short breaks, continued until 6.20pm.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said he expected that there wouldn't be any major changes in government policy but there would be a re-ordering of priorities.

"There's some work going on at present on a refocusing or a nuancing of the Programme for Government. I don't expect that to be dramatic. There are issues that have come to the forefront, like additional social housing, in the last while and I expect those to be met," the Finance Minister told reporters in Brussels.

But Mr Noonan signalled big changes in government personnel and said he expected these to be announced tomorrow.

"On the personnel side, it's a matter for the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste – but it will be reasonably significant, I think, because there are a number of vacancies, we think, emerging both in Labour and Fine Gael," he added.

The Finance Minister also said he believed the announcement on the nomination of the new EU Commissioner would come at the same time as the new Cabinet.

"I think it will be in the context of whatever changes are made in Cabinet. I would expect that whoever is nominated will be on that list," Mr Noonan added – but he declined to name names or suggest which Coalition party would provide the commissioner.

Embattled Health Minister Dr James Reilly held two press conferences yesterday and said he had a passion for health reforms and wanted to continue in that department. But he stressed that it was the Taoiseach's prerogative to appoint ministers.

Sources at Leinster House said Dr Reilly will be moved from Health but might be retained in another government department, possibly Transport and Tourism. The decision remains the most important one facing Mr Kenny.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan remains the hot favourite to get the nod as Ireland's next EU Commissioner. , while Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan remains the one most often cited to face demotion.


Fine Gael people tipped for promotion include Junior EU Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe, and Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe. Several other ministers have been tipped for new roles, such as Leo Varadkar moving to the Environment Department.

The new Labour leader faces equally challenging choices. The decision of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to quit is expected to be followed by her decision not to re-appoint previous party leaders Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte.

Newly elected deputy Labour leader Alan Kelly is tipped for a senior position. Others on the Labour potential list include defeated leadership candidate Alex White, Kathleen Lynch and Jan O'Sullivan.

Labour are trying to get the Jobs and Enterprise portfolio while Fine Gael are looking at the Education Department which is being vacated by Labour's Ruairi Quinn.

Irish Independent

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