Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fine Gael wants minister Hayes to run for Europe

Minister of State for Public Service Reform and Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes
Minister of State for Public Service Reform and Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes

Fionan Sheehan

FINE Gael wants junior minister Brian Hayes to run for Europe, taking him out of the loop for Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Hayes has been approached by party strategists to run as Gay Mitchell's replacement in the European Parliament elections, the Sunday Independent has learned.

He is understood to be weighing up his options on his political future.

Despite his strong performance as a junior minister, Mr Hayes is not guaranteed to be promoted in next summer's reshuffle.

Fine Gael, worried about the calibre of the candidates coming forward for the party in Dublin, wants a high-profile figure to run.

"We'd be happy if he wanted to run. He's the right fit. He'd win easily. He'd still have options in the future," a party strategist said.

Fine Gael's European election candidate in the capital is vital, as they will become the figurehead for the entire local and European elections campaign nationally.

Mr Mitchell's decision to retire as an MEP next year has left a huge gap for Fine Gael.

A senior party figure told the Sunday Independent: "Are they stuck for a candidate? Yes. They've been looking around the place. They haven't come up with an answer yet. They have spoken to him (Mr Hayes) about this, but he hasn't, and they haven't, come to a firm view.

"In order for us to show we're taking it seriously, it has to be a heavy-hitter. Replacing Uncle Gay is difficult, you know."

Fine Gael is devising its European election strategy, but waiting until after the redraw of the European constituencies is announced in the coming weeks before making any firm decisions.

Party colleagues believe Mr Hayes is also not guaranteed a Cabinet place, despite being by far and away the best performer in the junior ministerial ranks.

Mr Kenny's signalled reshuffle is expected to be conservative, with little fresh blood being introduced.

"The Taoiseach is very cautious. There are too many Dublin ministers already," a minister said.

Mr Hayes' relationship with Mr Kenny has been strained over the years, and he was one of the chief architects of the 2010 heave against him.

Former world athletics champion and Fine Gael senator Eamonn Coghlan is often mentioned as a potential candidate for the European elections, but there are concerns in the party about his grasp of European affairs.

Among the other potential candidates are senator Catherine Noone and independent senator Jillian van Turnhout, though both are regarded as lacking the profile to be a headline candidate.

Mr Hayes had no comment on the matter this weekend.

In the reshuffle, there are not expected to be wide-scale changes at Cabinet level, but Mr Kenny is likely to freshen up the junior ministerial ranks. Kenny loyalists such as Small Business Minister John Perry and veteran Gaeltacht Minister Dinny McGinley are viewed as being potentials to be dropped.

Among the Fine Gael backbenchers being mooted for promotion are Andrew Doyle from Wicklow, Joe O'Reilly from Cavan-Monaghan, Damien English from Meath West, Joe Carey from Clare and Joe McHugh from Donegal North-East.

But Mr Kenny is thought unlikely to move any of the new crop of young TDs up so fast. "If he promotes one, he could put himself in a lot of bother. Move up one and you piss off a lot," a minister said.

European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe is regarded as an exception, as he served in the Seanad for four years before being elected as a TD for the first time in the 2011 general election.

Sunday Independent

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