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Varadkar and Fitzgerald the favourites - but Shatter's replacement won't be appointed until tomorrow

The government has now said that Alan Shatter’s successor will be appointed tomorrow morning.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated 8.55pm

CHILDREN’S MINISTER FRANCES Fitzgerald and the Transport Minister Leo Varadkar are among the favourites to replace Alan Shatter as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.

Earlier, the government had indicated the appointment would be made this evening, but has now said that it will be made tomorrow with a motion due before the Dáil at 10.45am.

Speculation is already rife in and around Leinster House about who could replace Shatter, who resigned this afternoon.

As well as Varadkar and Fitzgerald, Fine Gael’s chairman and former justice spokesperson, Charlie Flanagan, has also been mentioned. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is also being discussed as is the current European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe.

The option of allowing Shatter stay on as Defence Minister, separating him from the part of the job that led to his resignation, is a non-runner as is separating the two portfolios which now seems unlikely. There is a constitutional maximum of 15 senior cabinet roles, the current number.

Launch of St Patrick's Festivals Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Varadkar is among the most high-profile of the current Cabinet and his popularity with the electorate means that he would be a safe choice in terms of public perception.

In addition he said that the actions of the garda whistleblowers were “distinguished”, criticising the former garda commissioner’s handling of the penalty points debacle.

However, his own background is in health and his penchant for off the cuff speaking is less suited to a top ministry, where ministers tend to be more guarded.

Fine Gaels Elections Campaigns Source: Photocall Ireland

Fitzgerald is considered to have performed competently in her role as Children’s Minister – made a Cabinet post for the first time by this government – and will already have certain a crossover with some of the matters that have come before Shatter’s desk in relation to children’s rights and same-sex adoption.

However concerns may arise over the lack of legislation she has pushed through in her three years in the post. By contrast, Shatter introduced the most legislation of any of the current Cabinet ministers.

Fine Gael Think Ins Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Flanagan, the current Fine Gael party chairperson is another favourite, with betting suspended on him after an early flurry.

He was the party spokesperson on Justice from 2007 to 2010 and would very much appeal to the party base on law and order. Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One today, Flanagan said that today had been “a difficult day”.

Coveney, considered a future leader of Fine Gael, is said to have performed excellently as Minister for Agriculture, competently handling the horsemeat scandal last year and remaining reasonably popular amongst farmers despite difficulties over the Common Agricultural Policy. His father, Hugh Coveney, was a former Minister for Defence.

Donohoe’s name arises out of the fact he has rapidly risen through the ranks of Fine Gael in less than a year, replacing Lucinda Creighton in the demanding role of European Affairs Minister last summer.

He is highly-rated and has a good command of any brief handed to him but Justice and Defence would be a huge task. It’s more likely he will be involved in the shake-up that results from appointing one of the above names to succeed Shatter.

Other outside bets include Pat Rabbitte, the current Communications Minister, but it is unlikely that the job will go to a Labour member of the Cabinet with Fine Gael’s reputation as the party of law and order meaning it will hold the justice portfolio.

In that case, there is already a former Justice Minister at the cabinet table in Michael Noonan but there is little chance of Noonan leaving the Department of Finance.

On the very, very outside, former Fine Gael junior minister Creighton is listed at 100/1, but it’s probably best to save your money on that one.

- additional reporting from Paul Hosford 

Read: Alan Shatter has resigned as Justice, Equality and Defence Minister

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Hugh O'Connell

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