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Everyday I'm Shufflin

All eyes on Cabinet reshuffle and who might get moved up the political ladder

Simon Coveney believes it was the right time to step aside so as to give the new Taoiseach ‘the space’ to create new opportunities.


SIMON COVENEY STEPPING aside from his ministerial role has given the next Taoiseach more room to play with when it comes to the looming Cabinet reshuffle. 

Simon Harris will seek Dáil approval next week to become the next Taoiseach.

Once he is sitting in the top seat, Harris’ first job will be picking his top team.

It is known that he only wants ministers serving in Cabinet that will seek a re-election. 

While Coveney told reporters categorically in Athlone last week that he plans to run again, he did not give a clear answer when asked on radio this morning, stating: 

“It’s not a yes or it’s not a no. It’s me being honest about it.”

Coveney said that after 13 years in Cabinet, he believed it was the right time to give Harris “the space” to create a new opportunity for Fine Gael in government.

He has served in several ministerial roles during all his years at the Cabinet table, including stints in Enterprise, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Housing, and Agriculture.

“I don’t know whether he [Harris] was going to ask me to be in Cabinet as part of that team or not. I know he was weighing that up. And we spoke about that both last week and again this week. But I think it makes life easier for him. And I think it’s also, you know, a recognition by me, too, that Fine Gael needs renewal,” Coveney said today.

Some will speculate that perhaps the Cork TD stepped aside from his ministerial role before being pushed, but either way, there is now a job in Enterprise that needs to be filled.

Roles that need filling

With Harris becoming Taoiseach, it leaves a vacancy in the Higher Education ministerial position. 

Then there is the vacancy that Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan has created by stepping down from her junior ministerial role.

This could lead to someone in the backbenches getting the nod to move up the ladder. 

The Longford-Westmeath TD and Minister of State for European Affairs Peter Burke is being spoken about as a shoo-in for promotion to Cabinet.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown TD and Minister of State for Financial Services, Credit Unions and Insurance Jennifer Carroll MacNeill is also one of the frontrunners being mentioned.

Madigan’s constituency colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Neale Richmond, who pledged his early support for Harris, is also being talked about as a possibility for moving up. Limerick TD and Minister of State with responsibility for Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan has also been mentioned as a possibility.

Coaxing people back

Other names mentioned have included Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, who has ruled himself out for re-election after he didn’t get the nod for ministerial job from Leo Varadkar last time around.

However, there is chatter that he might reconsider if Harris offers him a position.

Speaking to reporters last week, Harris confirmed that he did plan to speak to people such as Griffin about their future plans. 

In terms of those already at the Cabinet table, all eyes are on Justice Minister Helen McEntee and whether she will be rotated into another ministerial role.

Harris has spoken about a new re-focus on law and order, so this could mean a fresh new face in that department.

Some in her party believe she will be moved to Enterprise, now that Coveney has left the job open.

There is also speculation that Heather Humphreys, the current minister for Social Protection and Rural Affairs, could move back into the Department of Justice. The Cavan-Monaghan TD temporarily stepped into the position, along with Harris, when McEntee was on maternity leave.

Humphreys backed Harris early on and in a meeting with the soon-to-be Taoiseach, is understood to have struck a deal whereby she scooped the deputy party leader job from Coveney. 

Changing of the guard

With the changing of the guard with Varadkar and Coveney stepping aside, questions are also being asked about Paschal Donohoe’s future and whether he will be moved out of his role.

He is currently president of the Eurogroup, a job with big clout, and has been in rotation between the finance and public expenditure positions with Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, in what has been spoken about as a sort of an unwritten agreement made during the formation of the government.

It would be a big decision if Harris chose to move him out of his position, with the thought within the party that he is safe in his role in public expenditure.

Harris also has to consider geographical spread and gender balance in whatever form the Cabinet reshuffle will take. 

Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton is currently in the chief whip’s office, and has been viewed as vulnerable in recent days. However, some within the party state that with Coveney now stepping aside, it could mean that Harris is more likely to hold on to her for geography reasons. However, if Burke is promoted, the need might not be there. 

Others are talking about Carroll MacNeill moving to the chief whip’s office at the expense of Naughten, but that could put Harris at risk of being a called another Dublin-centric leader who is too focused on the east coast.

Upon his announcement that he was resigning as Taoiseach, Varadkar said one of the toughest decisions for the new leader will be on the reshuffle, stating that it is always the case that some people will be disappointed.

Due to this government being a coalition made up of three parties, there are a limited number of roles Fine Gael can fill. Big decisions will be made in the days ahead, with perhaps more becoming clear at the party’s Ard Fheis in Galway this weekend. 

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