Tuesday 21 January 2020

How Leo Varadkar's Cabinet shows a big focus is on Brexit

  • Meet your new ministers

  • Coveney in Foreign Affairs as Fitzgerald moves to Enterprise

  • Mitchell-O’Connor demoted but Donohoe in Finance merger

  • Doherty, Murphy and Ring come into Cabinet portfolios

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar receives his seal of office in the State Reception Room of Aras An Uachtarain by President Michael D. Higgins.
Pic Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar receives his seal of office in the State Reception Room of Aras An Uachtarain by President Michael D. Higgins. Pic Steve Humphreys
The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Leo Varadkar used his first day as Taoiseach to tell world leaders: "This country will be at the heart of Europe."

His Cabinet reshuffle saw leadership rival Simon Coveney made the effective 'Brexit Minister', while Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has been tasked with preparing "for the challenges and opportunities of Brexit".

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who has moved to the Department of Enterprise, is to ensure Ireland is "business-ready for Brexit".

Mr Varadkar will discuss the Brexit crisis during a series of phonecalls with British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron over the next 48 hours.

The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

The Department of Foreign Affairs, under Mr Coveney, has been given responsibility for coordinating a 'whole of government' response to Brexit.

The full details remain to be worked out, but a source told the Irish Independent: "In the same way that Public Expenditure monitors spending in every department, Foreign Affairs will now oversee Brexit across government."

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

However, Mr Coveney was accused of "walking away from housing" at a time when it remains in deep crisis.

Read more - Explainer: Who’s who on Leo Vardakar’s Cabinet team?

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the decision to move Charlie Flanagan out of Foreign Affairs "undermines the claims" that portfolios have been decided based on ability. Mr Flanagan has been handed the crisis-ridden Department of Justice.

The only casualty in the reshuffle was Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor - but even she was given a soft landing as a 'super junior' minister with responsibility for higher education.

The big winners were Mayo TD Michael Ring, who was appointed Rural Affairs Minister; Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who is Social Protection Minister; and Donegal TD Joe McHugh. who becomes Government Chief Whip.

Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy, who masterminded Mr Varadkar's win in the Fine Gael leadership race, takes over the Department of Housing.

Simon Harris has survived the shuffle despite speculation he could be dropped from Health as a result of his support for Mr Coveney in the contest.

Here's who the country's youngest ever Taoiseach has chosen:


Leo Varadkar newly elected leader of Fine Gael

Name: Leo Varadkar

Age: 38

Constituency: Dublin West

Experience: Minister for Tourism and Transport (2011-2014); Health (2014-2016); Social Protection (2016-2017)

Biography: Despite his youth, Varadkar is a lifelong Fine Gael activist. He is the youngest child of an Indian doctor and Irish nurse.

He is a qualified medical doctor. In January 2015 he became Ireland’s first openly-gay cabinet minister.

Easily won on confidence of his parliamentary colleagues in leadership contest but lost the membership vote.

Rivals argue he is untested.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise & Innovation

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Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Tom Burke

Name: Frances Fitzgerald

Age: 66

Constituency: Dublin Mid-West

Experience: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (2011-2014); Justice 2014-2017). Appointed Tánaiste on May 6, 2016.

Biography: Ms Fitzgerald considered but rejected the idea of a tilt at the leadership herself.

Backed Mr Varadkar in the opening days of the contest. 

As Justice Minister she headed the government response to Dublin’s gang war and the international terrorism threat.

But she has struggled with a series of garda controversies from allegations about the treatment of whistleblowers, to the recording of almost a million bogus driver breath tests.

Minister for Education & Skills

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Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Name: Richard Bruton

Age: 64

Constituency: Dublin Bay North

Experience: Junior industry and commerce minister (1986-1987); Minister for Enterprise and Employment (1994-1997);  Jobs and Enterprise (2011-2016) Education (2016- 2017).

Biography: The younger brother of former Taoiseach John Bruton. A Dáil veteran, Richard Bruton was first elected in 1982.

Appointed as Jobs Minister by Enda Kenny in 2011, despite his ill-fated heave in 2010 against the former Fine Gael leader.

An economist by profession, more than 135,000 jobs were created on his watch in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Brought the jobs ‘action plan’ model to education initiatives.

Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade

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Simon Coveney Photo: Reuters

Name: Simon Coveney

Age: 44

Constituency: Cork South Central

Experience: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine 2011-2016; Defence added to his Agriculture portfolio in 2014; Minister for Housing Planning, Community and Local Government May 6, 2016- June 14, 2017.

Biography: First elected to the Dáil in a 1998 by-election, replacing his late father Hugh. Euro MEP 2004-2007.

Led the response to the 2013 horse meat scandal and as defence minister dispatched the Irish Navy to the Mediterranean to save migrants’ lives. Most recently tasked with ending the government’s water charges nightmare and tackling the housing crisis.

Lost Fine Gael leadership contest to Leo Varadkar but won a majority among party members. 

Mr Varadkar had the backing of the majority of TDs and Senators ending the race in the first 48 hours.

Minister for Justice & Equality

Charlie Flanagan. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Name: Charles Flanagan

Age: 60

Constituency: Laois

Experience: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs May 2014-July 2014; Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade 2014 to June 14, 2017.

Biography: First elected to the Dáil in 1987, Mr Flanagan briefly served as Minister for Children before being moved to  Foreign Affairs amid a July 2014 reshuffle.

Heavily involved in Brexit preparations for Brexit with intensive shuttle diplomacy around Europe to highlight Ireland’s unique circumstances. 

Has also spent much time in the North as the Irish and British governments attempt to salvage the power-sharing executive after it collapsed in January. 

A solicitor by training, he was previously opposition justice spokesman. 

Minister for Finance and Department of Public Expenditure & Reform

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Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke

Name: Paschal Donohoe

Age: 42

Constituency: Dublin Central

Experience: Junior Minister for European Affairs 2013-2014; Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport 2014-2016;  Public Expenditure and Reform 2016-June 14, 2017.

Biography: Strongly tipped as a future Fine Gael leader, Mr Donohoe did not contest in this year’s election.

His public expenditure department was arguably more powerful than former minister Michael Noonan’s finance department in preparing for Budget 2017, as the bulk of the spending on public services rather than tax cuts.

Was a key early supporter of Mr Varadkar once the contest officially started. 

Has done the new Taoiseach another favour by reaching a draft public pay deal.  Budget 2018 is now his big challenge. 

Minister for Arts and Culture

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Heather Humphreys Picture: Tom Burke

Name: Heather Humphreys

Age: Undisclosed

Constituency: Cavan-Monaghan

Experience: Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht 2014-2016; Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs 2016-June 14, 2017.

Biography: Shortly after being appointed Arts Minister, Ms Humphreys was dragged into a controversy over the appointment of Fine Gael member John McNulty to the Irish Museum of Modern Art board ahead of a planned bid for the Seanad. 

She later headed the massively successful 1916 commemorations. After the 2016 general election got a strengthened brief adding regional and rural affairs. 

She launched the government’s Creative Ireland initiative earlier this year.

Read More: 'The government will not be right or left but of the new European centre' - Leo Varadkar is officially Ireland's Taoiseach

Minister for Community & Rural Affairs

Michael Ring Photo: PA

Name: Michael Ring

Age: 63

Constituency: Mayo.

Experience: Junior Minister for Sport (2011-2016) and junior for rural development 2016-2017.

Biography: One of the stand-out characters from any party at Leinster House.

A huge vote-getter in his native Mayo where he often rivalled his party colleague and former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

A TD since 1994, he might well have been minister earlier had he been in any other constituency. An early backer of Leo Varadkar’s leadership bid.

Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government

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Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke

Name: Eoghan Murphy

Age: 35

Constituency: Dublin Bay South.

Experience: Junior minister for financial services since May 2016.

Biography: First elected to Dáil in 2011 have been a Dublin city councillor since 2009.

Seen as a key member of Leo Varadkar’s leadership election campaign this year.

One of the so-called “five-a-side” football grouping of backbenchers who were critical of Enda Kenny’s leadership from early on.

Previously worked in Vienna for the United Nations.

Minister for Social Protection

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Regina Doherty. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Name: Regina Doherty

Age: 46

Constituency: Meath East

Experience: Government chief whip 2016-2017

Biography: A sometimes controversial figure first elected TD in 2011.

Unsuccessfully contested 2007 election and served on Meath County Council.

Clashed with government over pylons for an electricity inter-connector crossing her constituency. But this did not impede her promotion to the first team.

Minister for Health

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Name: Simon Harris

Age: 30

Constituency: Wicklow

Previous Experience: Junior Minister at the Office of Public Works 2014-2016; Minister for Heath 2016-June 14, 2017

Biography: The youngest TD in 2011, he was appointed to Cabinet at the age of 29 last year in the difficult health department.

Since then he has grappled with emergency department overcrowding and lengthy hospital waiting lists.

Had a win earlier this month when a row over the ownership of the planned new National Maternity Hospital at the St Vincent’s campus was defused.

The foundation stone of the new National Children’s Hospital has finally been laid on his watch.

However, as the only senior minister to back Simon Coveney in the leadership race, was considered lucky to stay in Cabinet though in a job not many colleagues would relish.

Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine

Michael Creed

Name: Michael Creed

Age: 53

Constituency: Cork North-West

Previous Experience: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine 2016-June 2017.

Biography: Mr Creed was a long time waiting for promotion to the ministerial ranks.

First elected in 1989, he backed Richard Bruton in the heave against Enda Kenny in 2010.

That experience perhaps explained his refusal to declare for a candidate in this year’s leadership contest, despite Simon Coveney also hailing from Cork.

Mr Creed will have  a key role in the government Brexit response given the huge economic importance of agriculture.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment

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Communications Minister Denis Naughten

Name: Denis Naughten

Age: 43

Constituency: Roscommon-Galway

Experience: Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment 2016- June 2017

Biography: Mr Naughten was expelled from Fine Gael in 2011 for opposing a government decision to downgrade Roscommon Hospital’s emergency department. 

Supported the Fine Gael-led minority government last year and was appointed to the Communications brief which includes responsibility for the key pledge to roll-out high quality broadband in rural areas.

Mr Naughten  has repeatedly said he has no intention of re-joining Fine Gael.

Is overseeing the tricky plan for pay-by-weight bin charges due back on the political agenda in the coming weeks.

Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport

Minister for Transport Shane Ross

Name: Shane Ross

Age: 67

Constituency: Dublin-Rathdown

Experience: Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport since May 2016.

Biography: Former stockbroker turned financial journalist, was a Senator for TCD (1981-2011).

A former Fine Gael member and candidate he later as an Independent had a very spikey relationship with the party. 

Has been frequently criticised for avoiding transport disputes and devoting too much time to issues beyond his departmental brief.

More recently under fire for using his cabinet post to further constituency interests – something he always condemned as a journalist  and senator.

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs

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Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke

Name: Katherine Zappone

Age: 63

Constituency: Dublin South West

Experience: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs 2016-2017.

Biography: Came to prominence as a gay rights campaigner seeking the right to have marriage to her long-time partner Ann-Louis Gilligan legally recognised.

Was CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and an adult education advocate. 

Was backed by Labour for Senate nomination 2011-2016. Independent TD since 2016.

Read More: Enda Kenny's reaction to finding out that Gerry Adams and Leo Varadkar attend the same pilates class is priceless

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Justice & Equality, and the Department of Health with special responsibility for Disability Issues

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Minister Finian McGrath Picture: Tom Burke

Name: Finian McGrath

Age: 63

Constituency: Dublin Bay North

Experience:  “Super Junior” Minister for Disability Issues 2016-2017.

Biography: A former teacher and councillor first elected as an Independent TD in 2002 and on three occasions since.

He is a long-time disability rights’ campaigner and was supporter of the well-known Independent TD Tony Gregory.

He made common cause with the diverse Independent Alliance, overlooking political differences.

Often an outspoken government critic, he had early difficulties in government, which have since appeared calmed.

Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education

Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD

Name: Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Age: 58

Constituency: Dún Laoghaire

Experience: Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Biography: A former primary school principal and Progressive Democrats councillor, Ms Mitchell O’Connor was first elected to the Dáil in 2011. 

Achieved brief notoriety for driving her car down the stairs of the Leinster House plinth.  Appointed jobs minister after last year’s general election. Her Cabinet position has been considered by some to be at risk amid criticism of her performance. She has clung on but with a demotion.

Chief Whip & Minister  of State at the Department of Culture with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands

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Joe McHugh. Photo: Tom Burke

Name: Joe McHugh

Age: 45

Constituency: Donegal

Experience: Junior Gaeltacht Minister 2014-2014 and junior minister for diaspora 2016-2017.

Biography: The former teacher became a Fine Gael senator in 2002 and a TD in 2007.

In July 2014 he was the focus of controversy when appointed Gaeltacht Minister unable to speak Irish.

He since distinguished himself by re-learning Irish to a high standard. His assignment to Irish language promotion is a signal the new Taoiseach is serious about Irish.

Donegal has not had a full Cabinet minister since 1957. Now they are almost there as he will attend government meetings but cannot vote.

Mr McHugh’s wife, Olwyn Enright, was Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly 2002-2011.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Defence with special responsibility for Defence

Paul Kehoe

Name: Paul Kehoe

Age: 44

Constituency: Wexford

Previous Experience: Government chief whip 2011-2016. Junior minister responsible for defence 2016-2017.

Biography: The Wexford farmer has been a Fine Gael TD since 2002.

A close ally of Enda Kenny, whom he served as party chief whip 2004-2011.

In this role he helped defeat the June 2010 botched leadership heave against Mr Kenny. He supported Leo Varadkar in the recent party leadership election.

Irish Independent

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