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Children to be 'centre stage' of government, says Martin as Cabinet shake-up looms

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

The Department of Children will be beefed up and given new responsibilities as part of a major reshuffle of Cabinet portfolios if a new government is formed.

The leaders of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party will today discuss a significant realignment of government departments in the hope Micheal Martin will be elected Taoiseach on Saturday.

There has been some debate in recent weeks over the possibility of the Children's portfolio being subsumed into another department under a Cabinet shake-up.

However, Mr Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan have agreed to enhance the department and give it more overarching responsibility for policy related to children.

Lobbying

Yesterday, Mr Martin said children will be "centre stage of any new government configuration".

Mr Varadkar also told an online Fine Gael conference over the weekend he did not believe the Children's portfolio should be attached to either the Department of Education or Health.

The decision follows a major lobbying campaign from people in the child protection industry.

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance will be split from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to allow Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to hold key economic roles in the new government.

One of the main responsibilities of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be to oversee the revised National Development Plan.

Fianna Fail is still pushing for the introduction of standalone Department of Higher Education and Research.

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan

The new portfolio would combine the third-level responsibilities of the Department of Education with the innovation element of the Department of Business.

The Department of Education would remain a standalone ministry overseeing secondary and primary school policies.

There is speculation that the Department of Rural Affairs will no longer be a standalone ministry and will be combined with another portfolio.

No final decision has been made on the assignment of the portfolios but the leaders are seeking to sign off on the new ministries ahead of the vote for Taoiseach, which is due to take place on Saturday in the National Convention Centre.

The three parties agreed Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will have six ministries each, while the Green Party will have three.

There will also be two super junior posts, along with 20 ministries of State.

If the memberships of all three parties vote in favour of the programme for government a vote for Taoiseach will be held on Saturday afternoon.

The leaders of each party will then assign TDs to Cabinet portfolios they have been allocated.

However, there are concerns the Green Party may not achieve the necessary two-thirds majority support from its members to enter government with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Yesterday, Mr Martin raised the possibility of seeking the backing of Independent TDs if the Greens do not vote in favour of the deal.

Mr Martin said his party had "good discussion" with up to 19 of what he described as "centre ground" Independent TDs.

Speaking on Today FM, he said he would also "not rule out" speaking to the Labour Party and Social Democrats if the deal with the Greens falls through.

Mr Martin said he does not have a "mandate" to hold talks with Sinn Fein after his party voted against speaking to Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Martin said he is unsure where the "room" is to renegotiate the programme for government, adding: "We'd be in a very difficult situation if it emerges that this does not get support."

Magic

"An enormous amount of time has been put into the negotiations to get this programme to government together. So therefore, there is no magic Plan B," he told RTE's Morning Ireland.

When asked if Fianna Fail would look for the support of other parties, Mr Martin said: "The most practical thing so far is we've had a lot of discussions with independent groupings, some of whom have indicated a desire that there would be a government formed, and that it would last five years.

"That's very, very uncertain and there's no commitment on others to engage in such a process."

He said he has received a "very positive" response to the programme for government within Fianna Fail, adding there will be a "political crisis" if it is not passed.