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Who's left to run the country with 11 ministers missing?

NOT since St Patrick banished the snakes and created a national holiday has there been such a mass exodus from Ireland.

The Taoiseach, eight cabinet members and junior minister Lucinda Creighton will all be out of the country tomorrow.

The group are meeting with top officials in the European Commission, and in an unprecedented move the 11 are "plane pooling" and will travel together on the Government Jet.

"It's not quite as glamorous as the March 17 trips because it's strictly work," a source pointed out.

"People are always saying that we need to cut travel costs, well I think this is the ultimate example," said the source, who added: "Imagine the conversation."

The delegation to Brussels will be led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Also travelling will be Michael Noonan, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Phil Hogan, Pat Rabbitte, Brendan Howlin and Joan Burton.



Debt

Embattled health minister James Reilly will have to face his fellow ministers for what will no doubt be an awkward 90-minute flight.

Left at home are Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who is recovering from hospital treatment, Sports Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

The Department of An Taoiseach did not respond to queries from the Herald asking who will be in charge while Mr Kenny and the Tanaiste are away.

The group will meet with representatives of the European Commission to discuss plans for Ireland's upcoming presidency of the European Union.

It is expected that they may also try to raise the issue of our of debt sustainability during the meeting.

The "working lunch" in Brussels will see ministers briefed on how to carry out their duties during the presidency.

The Cabinet will argue that the top issues facing the EU in the coming year are growth, job creation and dealing with debt.

Ireland will host a series of high-profile events next year that will see the heads of Europe including Germany's Angela Merkel and new French President Francois Hollande arriving in Dublin for official visits.

"It is going to be a big year for Ireland. We are battling with certain countries in Europe at the minute so it will be good that from January we will have some power in setting the agenda," explained a source.

They noted that while much of the media attention may focus on the cost of hosting events but argued that the benefits cannot be measured.

"It will open doors to some of the top players in Europe," said a source.

Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union begins on January 1 and runs for the first half of the year.

hnews@herald.ie


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