New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s “underwhelming” Cabinet reshuffle has drawn the ire of TDs within his own party, particularly the decision to keep Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste.
“It is a shocking decision. All the signs were that she was on the way out, now she is being promoted. It is a bad start,” said one prominent Varadkar supporter.
The Irish Examiner has also learnt that defeated leadership contender and Cork South Central TD Simon Coveney lobbied to be made Tánaiste.
According to sources close to the process of the Government formation, Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar held three meetings at which his requests were discussed.
But Mr Varadkar was firm in his resfusals, deciding instead to make Mr Coveney the deputy leader of Fine Gael on Tuesday.
Mr Coveney was moved from the Department of Housing to the Department of Foreign Affairs and has been given responsibility of co-ordinating the Government’s approach to Brexit.
Announcing his Cabinet, Mr Varadkar delivered a further blow to Mr Coveney by ordering a fresh review of his housing plan from his successor in the department, Eoghan Murphy.
Frances Fitzgerald and Paschal Donohoe were the big winners of the reshuffle.
Mrs Fitzgerald, who had been expected to lose the Tánaiste title, is set to have her powers enhanced, in a decision which has caused anger among Mr Varadkar’s supporters in Fine Gael.
“For the good of the party, she should have relinquished the Tánaiste title. We all thought she was being pushed out the door but now she is enhanced,” said one leading TD.
“It was obviously wrong. There is a lot of puzzlement. Getting Tánaiste was the price of support, not this too,” said one party TD.
Mr Donohoe has been given responsibility for both the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Despite suggestions he would be sacked, Simon Harris remains as minister for health and will bring forward a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.
The big loser on the day was the demotion of Mary Mitchell O’Connor from the Department of Jobs. She becomes a super junior minister who sits at the Cabinet table with responsibility for higher education.
Several government sources have confirmed that at least one of the delays to Dáil proceedings was caused by Ms O’Connor “throwing a strop” at her demotion and a quarrel over what new portfolio she would get.
She initially was being given a role in the Department of Justice but demanded the Higher Education role.
The appointment of four super junior ministers led to criticism from opposition politicians.
Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin claimed the incoming Taoiseach had “abused” the use of super junior ministers by now appointing four to sit at Cabinet.
The positions were being used by the new Taoiseach to help “resolve” internal party matters.
He questioned the promotion of outgoing attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal which, he claimed, was “low horse trading”, agreed by Minister Shane Ross in lieu of his local Garda station reopening.
A decision to leave Simon Harris in health, he said, was also a “punishment” instead of being a decision based on who was best qualified for the department.
If this was a “transformative or modern” Cabinet, it was a “poor start”, argued Mr Martin.
Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin also claimed that moving Simon Coveney from housing to foreign affairs was a “slap in the face” for the homeless.
Labour’s Brendan Howlin questioned the wisdom of having one minister, Paschal Donohoe, overseeing both Public Expenditure and Finance, warning he would still under law have to fulfill both roles.
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