No honeymoon period: The five big challenges now facing Leo Varadkar
INDEPENDENT.IE political editor Kevin Doyle looks at the big issues waiting for the new Taoiseach.
The new Taoiseach will have just a matter of days to get up to speed on the full Brexit plan before formal EU/UK negotiations get underway in Brussels on June 22/23. Leo Varadkar has outlined five priorities including keeping Northern Ireland in the Single Market.
He recently told the Dáil that Brexit' has shown the Government must put "Ireland first", adding: "It is not our duty to fight England's battle for her".
The full report of the Citizens’ Assembly will be landing in Leinster House in the coming weeks and an Oireachtas committee will be convened. It’s assumed a referendum will be held next year but the question being asked will be a big decision for the new Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar said during the leadership campaign that he has an evolving view on the question. He believes the Eighth Amendment should be replaced in the Constitution rather than removed.
“I come at it both as a politician and as a doctor but also as a brother and an uncle. Like Simon [Coveney], I don’t agree with abortion on request but I also am very sure the Eighth Amendment is too restrictive,” he has said.
PUBLIC SECTOR PAY
Today’s deadline for a deal between the Government and unions on public sector pay will not be met. The talks could go on for several weeks more with the threat of strike action hanging in the air if agreement cannot be reached. Ultimately the new Taoiseach will have to decide, along with Paschal Donohoe, on the price worth paying for industrial peace. Mr Donohoe backed Leo Varadkar in the leadership race so it also remains to be seen whether he might be promote to finance minister.
Union bosses will be worried about Mr Varadkar’s win because one of his election promises was to bring forward legislation that will restrict the right to strike for certain emergency workers.
From the scandals around whistleblowers to Templemore Garda College, the Government remains plagued by the problems at An Garda Síochána. A new justice minister is likely to be appointed in a bid to take some of the heat out of the debate but the incoming Taoiseach will inevitably face questions about whether they can reasonably stand by embattled Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
Mr Varadkar has said he wants there to be more “individual accountability” in the public service.
Housing is now almost on a par with Health as the seemingly insurmountable issue facing the Government. Simon Coveney has been bogged down in the crisis for the past year and is likely to be left in this portfolio by his rival.
However, Mr Varadkar indicated during the campaign that he is prepared to scrap the Help To Buy scheme if it is pushing up house prices. This could be a point of immediate conflict.