Frances Fitzgerald resignation: Wider cabinet reshuffle may be on the cards

Simon Coveney: Widely tipped for job of Tánaiste.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may use the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste as an opportunity for a wider reshuffle at Cabinet to embolden the party ahead of any general election.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is being widely tipped as the next Tánaiste but a decision on the appointment and other potential Cabinet changes are not expected for several days.

A Government spokesman has said that Mr Varadkar could “potentially” make wider changes to the Cabinet make-up.

Several Fine Gael TDs and ministers have said that Mr Coveney would be well placed to step into the role.

“He is loyal, a good debater, and it might help heal any divide after the recent leadership contest between them,” said a Fine Gael source.

However, the Taoiseach will also have to consider gender representation and the urban-rural divide. Some sources have also mentioned the name of Education Minister Richard Bruton, Social Welfare Minister Regina Doherty, and Arts Minister Heather Humphreys as potential considerations for Tánaiste.

Regina Doherty
Regina Doherty

It has been pointed out that Mr Coveney may be too busy handling Brexit to take on the role, especially with heavy travel obligations.

Other sources have noted that Mr Varadkar may be closer to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and choose him.

At the very minimum, Mr Varadkar may have four decisions to make regarding Cabinet and Fine Gael ministerial roles.

However there is some speculation he may go for a wider Cabinet reshuffle to prepare the party for the possibility of an election in 2018.

His spokesman said last night that the decision on who would become Tánaiste would likely be made at the same time as the new jobs minister is announced.

This would likely see Mr Varadkar promoting a junior minister to that position, although a number of backbencher names are being flagged, including Dublin-Rathdown’s Josepha Madigan, Longford-Westmeath’s Peter Burke, and Offaly’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

A more likely scenario would see Mr Varadkar promote a junior minister to the senior ranks. Helen McEntee, the European Affairs Minister, is one such name being tipped. However, it is thought that she is already well settled in her current role, given the urgency around tackling Brexit, some TDs say.

Helen McEntee
Helen McEntee

Any promotion of a junior minister would then lead to the promotion of a backbencher to replace them.

One senior Fine Gael source close to Mr Varadkar suggested he may possibly move one senior minister sideways into Jobs, therefore opening up a position for another senior role.

A Government spokesman at the weekly Cabinet briefing said a decision on the next Tánaiste would be made in the “next couple of days”.

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