Varadkar rules out reshuffle even if Fitzgerald is cleared
A cabinet reshuffle is off the table in 2018 even if Frances Fitzgerald is exonerated by the Charleton Tribunal.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he has "no plans" to change his ministerial line-up now that he is firmly established in the Department of An Taoiseach.
He was forced into a mini-reshuffle shortly before the Christmas break following the resignation of Ms Fitzgerald as tánaiste and business minister.
She has maintained her innocence amid accusations that she mishandled the case of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, but resigned in order to prevent Fianna Fáil pulling the plug on the minority Government.
At the time, Mr Varadkar told Fine Gael TDs he believes Ms Fitzgerald will clear her name when she appears before the tribunal in the coming weeks.
However, asked whether the Dublin Mid-West TD should be returned to Cabinet in the event she is proven to have acted properly, Mr Varadkar replied: "I still hold Frances Fitzgerald in very high regard.
"I'm not planning a Cabinet reshuffle but I certainly don't think for a second that she's somebody who is debarred from holding high office in the future."
Put to him that Ms Fitzgerald has been suggested as a potential Fine Gael candidate for the next presidential election, the Taoiseach said the party will be making no decisions on that issue until Michael D Higgins makes his intentions clear.
A presidential election is scheduled for October, but the incumbent is stalling on announcing whether he wants a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Mr Varadkar faced criticisms after taking office for failing to bring more gender equality into his ministerial team.
However, he now says the criticism is unfair because the first objective should be to get more women into politics in order to address the imbalance.
"What I want to work towards, though, is having many more women in the Dáil. My party has more female TDs than any other, but it's still only 11," he said.
"We obviously have local elections coming up in 2019 and we have a general election at some point as well.
"I'd be very keen to have as many female candidates as possible.
"The best way to improve participation in politics and in the government is to have more women in the Dáil, in the Seanad and in councils as well."
Only four out of 15 Cabinet ministers are female, including Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, who replaced Heather Humphreys after she was appointed Business Minister.