The only thing that is clear from the government program is that the office of the Taoiseach will rotate between the leader of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael 10 days before Christmas.
For posterity it says exactly that: “The leader of Fianna Fáil will hold the office of Taoiseach from this date until 15 The Government will support the nomination of the leader of the Fine Gael Party.”
Leo Varadkar’s Christmas present this year will return to the Taoiseach’s department after a brief hiatus following the retirement of Enda Kenny in 2017.
The government program says little about what should happen if the country’s leader rotates between two elected TDs for the first time in the state’s history.
For those who hold lucrative ministries, the coming months will be a jittery time when they will anxiously hope to retain their prominent positions at the Cabinet table or at the Minister of State level.
The program for the government mentions in passing what could happen in December regarding the “mercenaries and perks” of service in the coalition.
“Government membership and ministerial roles will continue unless agreed in advance by party leaders,” it said.
“Each party recognizes that the leadership and ministerial nomination of its respective party is solely a matter for that party.”
The relevant words in each segment are that the ministerial roles will continue unless the three coalition leaders decide otherwise, and the nominees for the roles will be determined by the leader who appointed a minister in the first instance.
This leads us to what may or may not happen on December 15th.
We know that the leader of the Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar, will be the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, will be the Tánaiste. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will remain Green Party leader unless, of course, Culture Secretary Catherine Martin decides to launch another coup.
But after that, it’s a guessing game. However, there are a number of schools of thought about what might happen if the two main coalition leaders change jobs.
It is widely believed in government circles that Micheál Martin would like to become foreign minister and at the same time be tánaiste. So where is the deputy leader of the Fine Gael, Simon Coveney, going?
Perhaps Coveney could be transferred to Varadkar’s Department of Enterprise, which would allow him to continue his international jet set, albeit without the Gravitas.
There are also questions about what is happening in Finance. It almost goes without saying that there will be a direct role reversal between Treasury Secretary Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Secretary Michael McGrath.
Nothing is set in stone, or at least written, but government sources say it’s a done deal.
But what does that mean for other conflicting offices like the Attorney General’s office, which is held by Fianna Fáil’s supporter Paul Gallagher? And the Justice Department, currently held by Helen McEntee? McEntee is about to go on maternity leave for the second time and Fine Gael will be keen to take over the Attorney General’s office.
So what remains with McEntee when her office is handed over to Fianna Fáil? And who should get it? The smart money could be Jack Chambers, who impressed many in Fianna Fáil in his role as Chief Whip.
Fine Gael will then get the Whip’s Office, which could be handed over to Secretary of State for Higher Education Simon Harris to try and neutralize the ambitious TD. However, some in the party say that would be a wasted move given Harris’ potential to take on Sinn Féin in election debates. Sources suggest he could take over the senior post of education secretary and incumbent Norma Foley could go in the opposite direction.
The other big question is what happens to the headache departments of housing and health. Fianna Fáil insisted on holding the two key portfolios during coalition talks but may be keen to dump them ahead of the next general election.
What would Fine Gael think of the prospect of swapping Social Protection Secretary Heather Humphreys and Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien? Both earn a lot of praise in their departments for their work, but rest assured that there is only one who wants to change positions.
Humphreys’ jobs also include Rural Affairs, which is essentially a portfolio of cash gifts, and coalition sources insist Fianna Fáil could not hold both that job and the Department of Agriculture. So what does this mean for Charlie McConalogue, who is fighting the climate change agenda, who also has voter hot potato mica hanging over his head? Micheál Martin could hardly get rid of him after his efforts during the talks on climate protection goals.
Far from being a popular figure in Fine Gael, Junior Street Minister Hildegarde Naughten might be up for the chop, although geography and gender are in her favour.
The fate of Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly is also unknown but it is believed he has a deal keeping him in place.
Overall, it looks like less is more when it comes to changes in cabinet positions in the current cost-of-living crisis, and the bigger decisions could be made in the ranks of junior ministers.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/government-reshuffle-leo-varadkar-will-become-taoiseach-but-which-ministers-could-lose-their-top-table-role-41901947.html Government reshuffle: Leo Varadkar becomes Taoiseach, but which ministers could lose their top positions?