Speculation Paschal Donohoe may get Finance

Speculation is continuing that incoming taoiseach Leo Varadkar may ask close supporter Paschal Donohoe to take over as Finance Minister in addition to his Public Expenditure role.

The move, which is likely to lead to an eventual re-merging of the two portfolios after the next election, will shore up a key position emptied by the departing Michael Noonan while not distracting from the ongoing public sector pay talks.

However, if it were to take place, the proposed plan would reduce the number of positions Mr Varadkar has available in cabinet for his supporters, a number of whom are clamouring for promotion in return for their support during his leadership campaign.

It is believed that Mr Varadkar — who will not make any formal decisions until late next week — is considering offering Mr Donohoe the dual role as he is the natural successor to Mr Noonan.

Such a move would allow Mr Donohoe to be rewarded for his time in Government and support for Mr Varadkar while also side-stepping any risk of destabilising the crucial public sector pay talks at a key time in negotiations.

However, while it would also allow for the eventual re-merging of the Finance and Public Expenditure portfolios into a single ministry after the next election, it would cause a fresh headache for the incoming taoiseach.

Should Mr Donohoe take control of both ministerial positions, it would mean one less seat is available at cabinet for a flurry of junior ministers, under-pressure ministers and backbenchers who all expect to see their leadership campaign loyalty rewarded by Mr Varadkar.

And while the mooted plan to split the Justice portfolio and create a new Home Affairs role may remove this risk, such a move would not take place until after the next election, meaning Mr Varadkar may find it difficult to appease some supporters.

If Mr Donohoe is not promoted to Finance, a number of Fine Gael TDs have privately indicated current Education Minister Richard Bruton may be in line to take up the role.

The cabinet member, who is also being touted by some to replace Frances Fitzgerald in Justice, notably publicly confirmed he would not contest the leadership race and was backing Mr Varadkar on the first day of the campaign, sparking claims a deal had been struck.

The ongoing clamour for positions within Fine Gael comes as Mr Varadkar held initial talks with beaten leadership rival Simon Coveney and Independents at the weekend.

These talks — which are believed to have included some discussion on whether to promote Mr Coveney to tánaiste — will continue later this week, with the Independent Alliance due to hold its own internal meeting today on what policies it wants action on in return for supporting the incoming Taoiseach.

In addition, Mr Varadkar is due to meet Fianna Fáil rival Micheál Martin later this week to discuss renewing the confidence and supply deal between their parties — talks which are key to the minority Government arrangement and to who holds the real political power.

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