Friday 28 April 2017

Minister snubs EU chief's visit for graduation

Emails reveal jobs minister wanted her staff to rearrange meeting with Brussels commissioner

Mary Mitchell O'Connor: Attended event in constituency
Mary Mitchell O'Connor: Attended event in constituency
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Mary Mitchell O'Connor wanted to rearrange a meeting with a European Commission vice-president so that she could attend a graduation event in her own constituency, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The jobs minister was set to meet Andrus Ansip, the Commissioner for the Digital Single Market project - a major effort to boost the European Union's economy and create jobs across member states.

But newly released correspondence shows that she wanted to reschedule so that she could attend a graduation in Dun Laoghaire instead.

"Please try and re-arrange my meeting with Andrus [Ansip], so that I can get to graduation," she wrote to her officials.

This weekend a spokeswoman for Ms Mitchell O'Connor confirmed that other ministers ended up going to the meeting with Mr Ansip instead.

Mr Ansip, a former Estonian prime minister, visited Dublin on September 8, 2016.

He appeared before an Oireachtas committee and also met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Communications Minister Denis Naughten and junior Europe Minister Dara Murphy.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor meanwhile, attended the graduation event at the Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute (DFEi).

She tweeted the next day: "Honoured to deliver key note speech for Graduation Class '16", adding: "Wonderful students" and posting photographs of the event.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor was first invited to the graduation ceremony in an email sent by DFEi principal Cecilia Munro on July 28, 2016.

Ms Munro also mentioned that her organisation was signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) on the same day.

In the email, the principal congratulated Ms Mitchell O'Connor on her appointment as jobs minister, saying: "It's a great achievement and I have no doubt that you are excelling in the position."

The ceremony was scheduled to start at 2pm with a "light lunch" available beforehand from 12.30pm.

On August 17, a staff member in Ms Mitchell O'Connor's constituency office, Patrick Flavin, wrote to Ms Munro saying the minister "very much wishes" to attend but warned that the event co- incided with Mr Ansip's visit.

Mr Flaven said the timetable of the commissioner's visit had yet to be confirmed but he would be in contact with the principal as soon as he had those details.

"Again Minister Mitchell O'Connor will do her utmost to attend," he added.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor emailed Mr Flavin later that day and copied in her then-special adviser Jim McGrath.

"Patrick, please try and re-arrange my meeting with Andrus [Ansip], so that I can get to graduation. Ask Jim to check," she wrote.

A spokeswoman confirmed that Ms Mitchell O'Connor didn't meet Mr Ansip during his visit to Dublin last September.

"Minister Naughten and Minister Murphy attended the meeting with Commissioner Ansip. They have primary responsibility for issues discussed," she said.

"Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor did not attend as she had a long-standing prior commitment."

Mr Ansip took to Twitter on the day of his trip to Dublin to thank Mr Kenny for Ireland's "strong" support of the digital single market.

He also posted about how he discussed "ambitious plans on strengthening rural broadband" in Ireland during his meeting with Mr Naughten and Mr Murphy.

Sunday Independent

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