Enda Kenny to turn focus to Cabinet reshuffle
Enda Kenny’s Government is in deep trouble and next month’s reshuffle might be the last chance he has to get it back on track.
Changes that are too modest – or worse still, botched – could see the Coalition come to a premature end; a successful reshuffle might just reinvigorate a tired Cabinet and draw a line under the recent chapter of blunders.
Our Taoiseach is by nature politically cautious, but this time he will have to be bold. The speculation in Leinster House is that he will be, and that a major shake-up is on the cards.
His hand has been forced here by Labour, where wholesale changes will follow the leadership election whoever wins.
James Reilly is a goner, with Leo Varadkar tipped to replace him. What then for the other pretender, Simon Coveney? Simply slipping into his rival’s recently vacated chair at Transport won’t do; could he supplant Richard Bruton at Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation? Or is he headed for Environment?
Richard Bruton of course wants to stay in his job, but he has no favours to call in with Enda Kenny.
But the word is that Labour too are eyeing a ‘good news ministry’ and that EJE might fit the bill for them; that would involve cross-party horse trading that would require the new leader to cede some ground.
Could that involve a powerful job outside the cabinet? There is a vacancy on the High Court with the elevation of Peter Charleton; with her close ally Eamon Gilmore gone, might it suit Máire Whelan to ascend the bench? Labour could then gift that back to Fine Gael – where the Law Library wing has scarcely recovered from the shock of the job slipping from their grasp. Or – here’s another possibility – might Joan Burton neutralise Alex White by offering it to him? Attorneys have been TDs before – but not for a while it’s true.
But back in Fine Gael, what does the future hold for Jimmy Deenihan? He’s said to be vulnerable; his colleagues shake their heads and whisper that the popular Kerryman has been captured by his officials.
But our Taoiseach lays great store by geography and it’s hard to identify a replacement minister from the South West. He’s also a Kenny loyalist, and they will be in short supply after the expected departure of Phil Hogan to Brussels.
So who comes into the cabinet? Enda Kenny will have at least two, and up to four jobs to give out.
There’s a lot of money on Paschal Donohoe; he’s from Dublin and the capital will have lost a minister in James Reilly, but some close to the Taoiseach think his Dublin Central seat is now unwinnable due to boundary changes and even promotion won’t save him. The junior ministry in Finance vacated by Brian Hayes is a key appointment, even if it’s not a cabinet job, and the affable Phibsboro deputy might have to be content with that.
There’s no one jumping out from the rest of the ranks of Fine Gael junior ministers although Chief Whip Paul Kehoe feels strongly his time has come.
So could cabinet elevation beckon for one or two backbenchers? Might Regina Doherty get the nod? Or Áine Collins, a member of the powerful Munster Mafia within the Fine Gael parliamentary party.
Another member of that influential club is Pat Breen but he is said to be content with his job chairing the Foreign Affairs committee.
Then there’s Simon Harris, who impressed during his European election campaign, as did Michael Creed who got Deirdre Clune over the line as director of elections.
And while we’re at it, although it’s not a full ministry, Galway West TD Seán Kyne is being linked by some with the job of Gaeltacht minister. Many are predicting a major clear out of junior ministers in any event.
Then what of Labour? The smart money is on Joan Burton who is sure to leave Brendan Howlin in situ. No such security for Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte or Jan O’Sullivan. Top of the queue to replace any casualties are the other leadership contenders, although Ms Burton has fought shy of saying her own immediate rival will automatically get the nod, and nothing is certain for Alan Kelly, Seán Sherlock, Michael McCarthy and Ciara Conway either.
Joan Burton will want to advance women within Labour, and although she might not be from the same party tradition as the Social Protection Minister Kathleen Lynch, has strong claims on a department.
The posts on offer will be further limited if the new leader listens to those voices warning that experience and continuity count for something and that Brendan Howlin cannot be the sole survivor of the ancient regime.
The one sure casualty according to the Leinster House sages is James Reilly; he may choose to quit cabinet altogether.
But all this is surmise and speculation. Enda Kenny may not have even put his mind to the changes yet. One of his key cabinet confidantes told me he has yet to be asked for his advice, adding that he knows better than to offer it before it’s sought.