Sunday 18 March 2018

Varadkar and Reilly may swap in reshuffle plan

Health Minister James Reilly and, inset, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar
Health Minister James Reilly and, inset, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar dramatically swapping portfolios with Health Minister James Reilly is an option on the table for Taoiseach Enda Kenny's planned Cabinet reshuffle, the Irish Independent has learned.

Mr Kenny is now expected to revamp his ministerial line-up this summer, soon after the local and European elections.

The nomination of the EU Commissioner, for which Environment Minister Phil Hogan remains the favourite, will create a vacancy at Cabinet.

Ireland is already being tipped in Brussels to get the powerful Competition Commissioner position and the Government will be keen to make an early nomination to get into the shake-up for the big jobs.

Fine Gael has first right of refusal on the European Commissioner post.

Ministers now say the removal of Dr Reilly as Health Minister is an option for the first time.

Mr Varadkar is viewed as the potential replacement on the Fine Gael side.

Despite his outspoken role in the Garda crisis, the minister is regarded as competent.

"He might switch Reilly and Varadkar. Leo is looking for a bigger role so there you have it. James can go into Transport," a senior minister said.

Dr Reilly has struggled to get to grips with the big-spending brief and the Labour Party continues to express frustration at the manner in which the Department of Health and the HSE are being run. The failure to implement the Haddington Road Agreement in the health service and the subsequent loss of savings is a particular source of consternation.

At the moment, Dr Reilly is heading for a €530m over-run in the service and senior Labour figures openly speak about the Health Minister being "dysfunctional".

This has also led to a lack of confidence in the minister's ability to deliver on the reform of the service with the introduction of Universal Health Insurance (UHI).

Mr Kenny is keeping his cards close to his chest about the timing of the reshuffle, but ministers feel it will happen early to give people time to get to grips with their new departments ahead of October's Budget.

However, the Taoiseach is thought to be planning minimal changes in personnel.

"He is cautious about these things. He is just a very cautious man. He won't do an Albert Reynolds with wide changes and promotions from the backbenches to the Cabinet," a minister said. Instead, Mr Kenny will move around ministers between portfolios.

Michael Noonan is seen as a dead cert to stay put as Finance Minister and Alan Shatter is highly unlikely to be moved as Justice Minister, despite his ongoing controversies.

Fine Gael figures believe Mr Shatter's position will be improved by the publication of forthcoming reports into the Garda controversies showing he acted appropriately.

The lack of obvious alternatives to become Agriculture Minister will probably result in Simon Coveney staying put.


European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe is the main contender for promotion to the Cabinet, as Lucinda Creighton is now gone from the party and Brian Hayes is on the brink of being elected as an MEP.

Mr Donohoe is being linked with the Environment Minister's job, if Mr Hogan goes to Europe.

Fine Gael is willing to swap portfolios with Labour in the reshuffle, after dropping previous hardball tactics.

"There's no one in Fine Gael objecting to that," a minister said.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's future will come under the spotlight, with continual calls from within Labour for him to move out of Foreign Affairs.

Options available there include swapping roles with Jobs Minister Richard Bruton or Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.


Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is expected to be dropped and Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan, a super junior minister who sits at Cabinet, is also in the firing line.

Junior health ministers Alex White and Kathleen Lynch are the favourites for promotion.

However, senior Labour figures stress Mr Gilmore and Mr Kenny have not held talks about the reshuffle.

Mr Kenny will make more widespread changes in the junior ministerial ranks.

"He'd have more scope in the juniors," a minister said.

Junior ministers John Perry, Dinny McGinley and Fergus O'Dowd are in the spotlight there. Mr Hayes' departure, a promotion to Cabinet and just dropping one of these would give Mr Kenny three vacant posts.

Among the backbenchers being tipped for promotion are Damien English, Charlie Flanagan, Andrew Doyle, Joe O'Reilly and Michael Creed.

EU sources say Ireland is being tipped to get the next Competition Commissioner post in the summer or autumn.

However, it's early stages in the carve-up of positions and the new European Commission President will have a strong say in the allocation.

Irish Independent

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