Wednesday 18 October 2017

Taoiseach's department must flex muscles over health and justice - Leo

Social Protection Minister and frontrunner for the Fine Gael leadership contest Leo Varadkar at Mallinckrodt’s new global medical device engineering centre at its campus at the College Business and Technology Park in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, yesterday.
Photo: Maxwellphotography.ie
Social Protection Minister and frontrunner for the Fine Gael leadership contest Leo Varadkar at Mallinckrodt’s new global medical device engineering centre at its campus at the College Business and Technology Park in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, yesterday. Photo: Maxwellphotography.ie

Niall O'Connor, Cormac McQuinn and Ralph Riegel

A beefing up of the powers of the Department of Taoiseach is to form a major plank of Leo Varadkar's bid for the Fine Gael leadership, the Irish Independent has learned.

Mr Varadkar wants to give the department more influence over the scandal-hit areas of justice and health in a move that is likely to attract support from within the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

The vast majority of the controversies that have dogged this minority Government have emerged under the watch of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Health Minister Simon Harris.

Justice, in particular, is now being likened to the "new Angola" as a result of the series of damaging scandals that have engulfed the crisis-ridden An Garda Síochána.

Senior sources in the Varadkar camp confirmed he will seek to ensure the Department of An Taoiseach is given more influence over the areas of health and justice, if he is elected.

"There needs to be more interest and engagement," said one source.

Mr Varadkar yesterday said he doesn't know what Taoiseach Enda Kenny will say when he addresses the parliamentary party tomorrow in relation to the leadership issue.

"I've always said that the timeframe is a matter for the Taoiseach and that remains the case. Certainly whenever the vacancy does arise I'm ready for that but until he makes that decision obviously I'm happy to stay busy doing my job," the Dublin West TD said at an event in Blanchardstown.

The remarks were made just hours after Education Minister Richard Bruton refused to rule out joining Mr Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney in declaring an interest in the leadership.

The Dublin Bay North TD said he will make his position known once Mr Kenny announces his intentions.

"I've said consistently that until Enda makes a decision as to what he's doing I'm going to continue to work as part of his team delivering in my area," Mr Bruton told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland'.

"When he makes his decision I will make my position clear.

"I'm not either ruling myself in or ruling myself out."

Mr Bruton is understood to have gauged the views of some colleagues over whether they believe there should be a third candidate in the contest.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney yesterday urged Fine Gael to pay due respect to Mr Kenny as he signals the end of his 17 years at the helm of the party.

He is expected to outline the timeline for his stepping down as Taoiseach and party leader tomorrow night - immediately triggering a leadership battle.

Mr Coveney repeated his prediction that he expects the party and country to have a new leader in place before the Dáil summer break.

He said he will not be launching a campaign until there is a vacancy.

"Obviously, from my perspective, I am excited by the potential opportunities that might come from that (leadership battle)," the Cork South Central TD said.

"But more importantly we need to respect the fact and recognise the fact that Fine Gael has had the same leader for nearly 17 years.

"We have a Taoiseach, we have a party leader. He is a strong, effective and successful party leader and until he decides that there is a leadership process under way, I will not be launching any campaign."

Irish Independent

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