Leo Varadkar 'considering Simon Coveney for Tánaiste'

Incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may ultimately appoint his leadership rival Simon Coveney as Tánaiste as part of a peace offering to ease party divisions, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The move has been increasingly suggested among Fine Gael TDs as speculation continues to mount over Mr Varadkar’s new-look Cabinet — and as the new Fine Gael leader prepares for crunch talks with Fianna Fáil later this week.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney held a “positive and constructive” meeting on Saturday, though neither referred to what role he may have.

Mr Coveney made it clear during the leadership campaign he would like to remain in the housing portfolio if Mr Varadkar won, meaning a switch is unlikely.

However, his strong showing — which may ultimately save his chief Cabinet supporter, Health Minister Simon Harris — and the dwindling number of non-Leinster ministers mean he may be given a higher office.

Such a move will cause further difficulty for current Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who, it has been claimed, will stay in Cabinet but be moved from justice and replaced by current Education Minister Richard Bruton.

While a Justice Minister switch risks contaminating two senior figures with garda scandals instead of limiting the damage to one, this or a similarly mooted move to Finance would be a promotion for Mr Bruton, who notably did not contest the leadership and backed Mr Varadkar’s candidacy.

Although no decisions have been made and Mr Varadkar has indicated his Cabinet will remain largely intact, for now, there are also suggestions the incoming Taoiseach could also split justice to create a Home Affairs Minister position.

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor is expected to be moved but remain in Cabinet in Social Protection or Education, with Mr Varadkar’s election campaign manager and current junior finance minister Eoghan Murphy replacing her.

Junior ministers Sean Kyne, Michael Ring and Joe McHugh will contend for a senior Cabient ministry to cover a west coast Cabinet gap, with up to six junior ministers being replaced by Varadkar supporters such as Jim Daly, Michael D’Arcy, Brendan Griffin, Pat Deering, John Paul Phelan and chief whip Regina Doherty, who coveted a junior minister role last year.

Although first-time TDs Josepha Madigan and Noel Rock gave similarly high-profile support, Mr Varadkar is likely to delay any new TD promotions to ensure backing from higher ranks.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper.

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