TAOISEACH Brian Cowen's cabinet reshuffle looks set to fall considerably short of the radical reform being called for in some quarters of Fianna Fáil, with Mary Coughlan, Noel Dempsey, Brendan Smith, Dermot Ahern and Mary Harney all retaining positions.
Arts, Sport and Tourism minister Martin Cullen has already reached an agreement with the Taoiseach that he will not continue and there is speculation in Fianna Fáil that he will not contest the next general election due to his chronic back condition.
The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, headed by Éamon Ó Cuív, looks certain to be broken up. The Galway west deputy is not a Cowen favourite, but the absence of another cabinet presence from the west coast may work in his favour, the Sunday Tribune has learned.
Nine days ago Fianna Fáil National Executive member Jerry Beades called for the Taoiseach to show "decisive leadership" and sack half a dozen ministers including Tánaiste Coughlan, justice minister Ahern, transport minister Dempsey, health minister Harney, Cullen and Ó Cuív. His intervention sparked a furious row with Dempsey, and the Taoiseach subsequently confirmed that a cabinet reshuffle was "under review", further fuelling speculation about a radical cull.
The creation of a new super junior ministry at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for public service reform could see the elevation of Dara Calleary from Labour Affairs or Dick Roche from European Affairs. This role will also take some of the workload off finance minister Brian Lenihan as he continues his treatment for cancer.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment also faces overhaul and will be replaced with a new department incorporating enterprise and economic planning with special emphasis on job creation and long-term planning. Mary Coughlan will keep her role as Tánaiste, but will not be responsible for enterprise or economic planning. Sources say she may get a trade and tourism appointment.
Health minister Mary Harney is expected to continue in her role, meaning she remains the first independent cabinet member since James Dillon 60 years ago. Noel Dempsey, Brendan Smith and Dermot Ahern are expected to continue in senior roles, but not necessarily with the same portfolios. Dempsey, Ahern and Micheál Martin are seen as the likely candidates for the new enterprise and economic planning role.
Although the personnel changes are expected to be limited to just two or three people, the restructuring of departments and changes in the ranks of junior ministers should allow Cowen to present the changes as a significant overhaul despite limited change.
Mary White will replace her party colleague Trevor Sargent in the role of junior minister for food and agriculture. Names being mentioned for the cabinet vacancy created by the Willie O'Dea resignation include: Tony Killeen, Billy Kelleher, Pat Carey, Conor Lenihan and John Curran.
It is expected that the reshuffle will take place within the next two weeks.