Ministers face cold sweats as they await fate

Leo Varadkar's first cabinet pictured in June 2017

Well, he has certainly put the cat among the pigeons. No subject matter exercises ministers more than talk of a reshuffle, writes Political Editor, Daniel McConnell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made it clear he intends conducting the fourth reshuffle of his tenure this summer after the local and European elections.

“I’ve always said that would be the logical time to reshuffle the Cabinet, to reshuffle your team is 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 their first,” he told political correspondents recently.

Varadkar was criticised for his extremely limited changing of the ministerial order when he became Taoiseach in June 2017, demoting just one minster, Mary Mitchell O’Connor. O’Connor was given the consolation of a super junior ministry, allowing her to remain at the Cabinet table, a decision which left many in Fine Gael scratching their heads.

Since then, he has been forced into two mini-reshuffles following the resignations of then Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald in November 2017 and Communications Minister Denis Naughten in October. But should he and his shaky government survive until the summer, just who at the Cabinet table is vulnerable?

Well, any reshuffle will be limited to Fine Gael ministers and not the Independents, Shane Ross and Katherine Zappone. Super Junior minister Finian McGrath is also unaffected. So absenting himself, technically Varadkar has 12 positions to play with but realistically he will want to limit the reshuffle as much as possible.

They are notoriously precarious exercises for leaders, bringing resentment, disappointment and anger at every turn. Be too cautious, people will accuse you of bottling it. Be too aggressive, you open yourself to enemies and Varadkar will seek to continue his position of total control over his party.

Therefore a number of ministers are likely to be immune from the threat of demotion. They include Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Communications Minister Richard Bruton.

Donohoe, despite some harsh criticism over his giveaway budget, has cemented his position at the heart of government while Coveney’s position as Tánaiste and key Brexit minister is enough to spare him.

Bruton, who has been at Cabinet since 2011, was until the Naughten crisis in the running for the drop but is now safe as houses given the need for the Government to shore up the National Broadband Plan.

Mitchell O’Connor has presumably seen the writing on the wall hence her saying she wants to run for Europe. A case of jumping before being pushed.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is another who has repeatedly been linked with the drop. He was lucky to escape unscathed from the Frances Fitzgerald crisis and her resignation spared him.

Health Minister Simon Harris has had a tetchy relationship with his party leader. He was the only member of Cabinet to back Coveney in the leadership race and only survived after Coveney appealed to the Taoiseach to allow him to remain. He could face demotion, either to another department or out of Cabinet.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has endured a torrid and while he was Mr Varadkar’s campaign manager, relations between the two have since cooled. He too could be shown the door.

Contenders

Safe As Houses

Paschal Donohoe – Finance minister has cemented his importance to Government, despite criticism of his giveaway budget.

Simon Coveney – Although not a warm character and he and the Taoiseach have an uneasy relationship, the Tanaiste’s performance on Brexit will see him remain.

Richard Bruton – A previous contender for the drop, but now cannot be moved given the controversy around the National Broadband Plan.

Relegation Zone

Eoghan Murphy – Housing minister has endured a torrid time since becoming a minister. Was Varadkar’s campaign manager but relations have cooled.

Charlie Flanagan – Justice minister has repeatedly been tipped for the drop and once again is a contender to be moved given Taoiseach’s desire to modernise the Cabinet.

Simon Harris – the health minister and Varadkar have an uneasy relationship and was only spared following pleas from Coveney when Taoiseach took up office. A strong media performer, Harris could see himself moved out of health.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Super Junior minister is on her way out, signalling her desire to stand for Europe in the summer. Jumping before she is pushed.

Promotion hopefuls

John Paul Phelan – Junior housing minister who is very close to the Taoiseach

Michael Darcy – Junior finance minister who is another close confident of Leo Varadkar

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