Leo Varadkar's reshuffle is a chance for Fine Gael to play musical chairs

There will be nothing very revolutionary about the makeup of the new cabinet, writes Elaine Loughlin.

Leo Varadkar's reshuffle is a chance for Fine Gael to play musical chairs

Leo Varadkar may have represented a new, fresh future for Fine Gael, but his cabinet will be far from revolutionary.

While Mr Varadkar has signalled that he will appoint a “transitional cabinet”, many backbenchers left in the wilderness in the Kenny era will undoubtedly be promoted.

The election has created two vacant positions, with both Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan stepping out of Government. Essentially, it will be an exercise in musical chairs.

There will be no consolidation of departments this time round, with the biggest reshuffle likely among the junior minister ranks:


From the very start of the leadership challenge, junior finance minister Eoghan Murphy was at the nerve centre of the Leo team, acting as campaign manager and helping to shore up support from within the parliamentary party.

In the initial days of the leadership race, as TDs and senators were trotted out to publicly support Mr Varadkar, Mr Murphy was seen around Leinster House engaged in hushed telephone conversations.

The soft-spoken Sandymount native has a seriously ambitious streak and also led the ‘Fine Gael Five-A-Side Club’ which became infamous for breaking ranks under Mr Kenny’s leadership.

Mr Murphy, who worked at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva before entering politics, will undoubtedly be expecting a senior role in cabinet.

While the departments of finance or public expenditure and reform may not be his, he could be handed responsibility for jobs.


Paschal Donohoe was dubbed the kingmaker during the campaign and his presence at the shoulder of Mr Varadkar on Dublin’s Leo St, as he formally announced his intention to run, was significant.

Indeed, many were surprised the Dublin Central TD didn’t put himself forward for the leadership, but his support of Mr Varadkar was seen as another significant blow to the Coveney camp.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has already declared he will be vacating his Cabinet seat, leaving a position open.

While Mr Varadkar has said Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform should be merged, it is unlikely this will be done straight away.

In the short-term, this would leave the possibility of Richard Bruton, who declared his support on the first day of the campaign, and Mr Donohoe sharing the two portfolios.


Some members of the Five-A-Side Club — a loose group of TDs who were first elected in 2011 and sought to change thinking within the party and challenge the hierarchy — are likely to be promoted by Mr Varadkar.

Many of the so-called rowdy bunch called for Mr Kenny to resign as far back as last September. They include Brendan Griffin and Pat Deering, and are likely to earn at least a junior ministerial position.

After former junior minister for the diaspora Jimmy Deenihan lost his seat in the 2016 general election, it had been expected Kerry’s only Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin might be given a ministerial job to stave off the Healy-Rae march.

But Mr Griffin was left empty-handed and vexed on the backbenches and instead, Patrick O’Donovan in neighbouring Limerick was given the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport role. It’s a role Mr Griffin would like to take back for the Kingdom but he would accept any promotion.

While not connected to the Five-A-Side Club, Michael Ring will also be expecting a senior cabinet position and there have been strong rumours around the promotion of Pat Breen.


John Paul Phelan was another vocal backbencher who led the call for Mr Kenny to announce when he would be standing aside.

Having played a crucial role in drumming up support for Mr Varadkar and helping to plot out the campaign, he has been tipped to take up the much-coveted role of Government Chief Whip.


It was a tough decision for John Deasy to choose a side in the leadership battle but, in the end, he went with the tide and chose Leo Varadkar.

But that tough decision will now reap benefits for the opinionated Waterford TD, who is known for his maverick streak.

He has been a TD since 2002 when he succeeded his father, former minister Austin Deasy, but was ignored by Mr Kenny when it came to ministerial appointments. His criticisms of Mr Kenny went further back than the creation of the Five-A-Side brigade after he was sacked as Fine Gael’s justice spokesman in 2004 for defying the smoking ban.

When Mr Deasy lit up three times in the Dáil members’ bar and refused requests to stub out his cigarettes, he was shunned by Mr Kenny. Perhaps he may make his way back to a role in justice under Mr Varadkar’s leadership.


The Cork South-West TD, among the rebel element under Mr Kenny’s reign, will have to be rewarded.

Although it was always a given that he would support Mr Varadkar, doing so was a brave move, especially with fellow Corkonian Simon Coveney running. He has chaired the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, but it is unlikely the new Taoiseach will remove Katherine Zappone from her portfolio.


Michael D’Arcy saw himself as a key player in Mr Varadkar’s campaign, hanging around on the edges to oversee the swarm of TDs and senators who came out in the first days of the campaign to declare support for the Dublin West TD. Mr D’Arcy, who faces stiff competition in his Wexford constituency, will hope a juicy role will help him when the next election comes around.


Given the small number of elected women in the party, those who publicly back Mr Varadkar are almost certain to be rewarded.

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty is likely to enjoy the greatest spoils and will be hoping to earn a senior Cabinet role.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who has faced criticism in the Department of Jobs, will almost certainly be moved but her support of Mr Varadkar may save her.

Josepha Madigan was one of the first-time female TDs to back Mr Varadkar and is likely to receive a junior ministry as result. She courted controversy when running for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2014 when she described plans for a Traveller halting site as a “dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”.

However, because of the numbers, some female party members who sided with Simon Coveney could still be given a surprise junior role.

Meath East TD Helen McEntee is also guaranteed to retain a junior title, especially since fellow minister of state Damien English, of the neighbouring Meath West constituency, will undoubtedly be dropped after acting as campaign manager for Mr Coveney.

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