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Varadkar warns ministers about summer reshuffle after elections

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New chapter: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be two years in his job this June. Photo: Caroline Quinn

New chapter: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be two years in his job this June. Photo: Caroline Quinn

New chapter: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be two years in his job this June. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has put ministers on notice that they face the prospect of a summer reshuffle after the local and European elections.

He also signalled a potential delay in the planned referendum on cutting divorce waiting times.

Mr Varadkar will be two years in the job as Taoiseach this June and has not yet conducted a major reshuffle of the Cabinet.

More than two-thirds of those around the Cabinet table were there - albeit some in different roles - under Mr Varadkar's predecessor, Enda Kenny. A reshuffle would be an opportunity to freshen up his team ahead of an expected general election next year.

Mr Varadkar was asked about the possibility of a ministerial shake-up at a round-table interview with journalists.

He said: "I've always said that would be the logical time to reshuffle the Cabinet... after the local and European elections. That was done on the last occasion by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. I'd be minded to do the same. There'll be a chance to reshuffle the team then, perhaps in June or July.

"That would give them a chance over the summer to read into new briefs if they get them. But we need to get there first."

Mr Varadkar was asked specifically about the fates of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Health Minister Simon Harris. Both have struggled to achieve results in difficult briefs and have been lightning rods for Opposition criticism. The Taoiseach refused to be drawn on any specific moves saying: "I won't be getting into any individuals today. That wouldn't be fair."

Separately, he indicated the divorce referendum could be put back to later in the year to allow for a vote on the reference to 'women in the home' in the Constitution.

A vote on cutting the waiting time for divorce from four to two years has been tentatively pencilled in for May 24, the same day as the local and European elections.

The Government abandoned a bid to hold the 'women in the home' vote last year amid an Oireachtas dispute over whether it should simply be removed or replaced with language recognising the role of gender-neutral carers.

Mr Varadkar said the current plan is to have plebiscites on whether or not there should be directly elected mayors in Cork, Limerick and Galway, as well as the divorce and a referendum on presidential election voting rights for Irish citizens abroad on the same day. He also said there will be a second set of referendums later in the year and there is a "caveat" on the current plan.

Mr Varadkar said he had intended to hold the 'women in the home' vote alongside the 2018 Presidential election but there wasn't cross-party consensus on the issue. The Attorney General is considering proposed new wording put forward by an Oireachtas committee.

Mr Varadkar said: "If he's able to say to us that it means what it says it means - you always have to be very careful about what you write into the Constitution - we may substitute that for the referendum on divorce instead.

"We are determined to go ahead with the one to extend the right to vote to Irish citizens outside of Ireland in presidential elections."

Irish Independent