James Reilly is likely to be replaced by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar in the Cabinet reshuffle next year, senior sources predict.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny intends to reshuffle his ministers in the second half of 2014, and sources say the health minister is set to be moved sideways.
Mr Kenny said: “I certainly would like to see that people who work very hard and who show real ability should be given a chance to demonstrate that.”
Sources said senior ministers were now openly criticising his “complete lack of management skills” at the crisis-laden health department and they fear that Dr Reilly’s “dismal” performance will hinder the Coalition’s efforts for re-election in 2016.
His replacement could be Leo Varadkar, who is a medical doctor, is viewed as a “top performer” in the transport and tourism brief. Sources say such an appointment would be designed to “test him out” and keep the minister, who’s not afraid to voice his opinions, “on a short leash”.
The announcement is being interpreted as a warning to those on the frontbench to “stay on their toes” and deliver dynamic and jobs-friendly departmental submissions as part of the Government’s medium-term economic strategy.
Labour Party sources said while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will move himself out of Foreign Affairs to help concentrate party efforts on the 2016 election, there is no sign of Pat Rabbitte, in communications, or Ruairi Quinn, in education, willingly stepping aside for the likes of Alex White, Seán Sherlock or Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
A lot will also depend on the results of next May’s European and local elections, as to whether there is an appetite for the Coalition partners to switch ministerial portfolios.
Fine Gael sources believe while there may be changes at junior ministerial level, there’ll will be “minimal” movement at the top, in a reshuffle which will be sparked by either Environment Minister Phil Hogan or Mr Quinn replacing Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in Brussels.
Asked if loyalist Phil Hogan was heading out to Europe, Mr Kenny replied: “I hear names being mentioned all over the place. They are all noses to the grindstone at the moment.”
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan could face the axe, as could Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, who oversaw the disastrous Seanad abolition referendum defeat.
Brian Hayes, who moved against Mr Kenny in the failed 2010 leadership heave, may opt for the European Parliament elections.
One TD said: “You could put Brian’s head on the top of the Christmas tree at Leinster House and he won’t get promoted. Enda feels he owes him nothing.
“The rest of the junior minister set are weak, nobody knows who they are… so the likes of John Perry, Ciarán Cannon and others may be dropped to give the likes of Charlie Flanagan a chance.”
The overall pick-up in the economy and steady 30% in the polls are likely to thwart the ambitions of some FG backbenchers, one of whom said “we’ll be happy enough to stay where we are if we’re going to be re-elected”.
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