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The honeymoon's over: Leo's facing loads of challenges on his first working week on the job

It’s his first proper week as Taoiseach and he’s already facing his first scandal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Image: Sam Boal

THE HONEYMOON PERIOD for the newly-elected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is well and truly over.

If he thought he was going to get an easy ride in his first week, he was mistaken. With the Dáil being on a break for the last couple of weeks, work has been building up, and there is a lot to get through before the summer recess.

On the agenda? His first controversy.

Máire Whelan and the Court of Appeal

Since last week, his first scandal as Taoiseach has been bubbling over: the appointment of the former Attorney General to the Court of Appeal.

During Enda Kenny’s last days as Taoiseach, Whelan was approved for the role by Cabinet. Opposition members say the appointment stinks of cronyism.

While no one is questioning Whelan’s legal capabilities, serious questions are being asked as to whether proper procedures were followed in appointing her to the new role, after it emerged that three High Court judges were also interested in the job.

It has also revealed last week that instead of excusing herself from the room, Whelan was present during last week’s Cabinet meeting when her appointment was raised by the then-Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

ANN LOUISE GILLIGAN FUNERAL 1984_90515286 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Source: Eamonn Farrell

While government ministers have been out in force over the weekend to state that there is no question as to whether Whelan is suitable for the job, they appear to be missing the point.

Varadkar was present at the meeting and what the public will take away from this matter is ‘same old, same old’. It is hardly the fresh new government approach Varadkar was hoping the public would perceive.

In addition, the weekend newspapers reported that no date was set for Whelan’s appointment to be affirmed by the president.

However, late Sunday night it was confirmed that the government had got in touch with Áras an Uachtaráin requesting for it all to be signed, sealed and delivered on Monday. This means that the issue has been put to bed before members of the Independent Alliance (with Shane Ross at the fore) had a chance to raise concerns about the issue around the Cabinet table today.

File Photo Maurice McCabe's Smear Campaign Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Source: Eamonn Farrell

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan

The issues with the monies at the Garda College in Templemore also hasn’t gone away with Kenny. There may be a new justice minister (Charlie Flanagan) but the scandal continues.

The Garda Commissioner Noírín O’Sullivan is back before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today to be quizzed about further developments regarding the misappropriation of funds at the college over the last decade.

When Kenny was Taoiseach, he was constantly asked about whether he had confidence in the commissioner. There is no doubt Varadkar will face the same line of questioning during his first Leaders’ Questions today.

Whether he will give another answer remains to be seen.

File Photo A United Nations committee has again ruled that Ireland's abortion laws have violated the rights of woman who had to travel to Britain after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality Pro Choice protester in Dublin. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Abortion 

It’s his first working week as Taoiseach, and if he hasn’t already got his hands full with Brexit, the Attorney General controversy and the Garda Commissioner, the issue of abortion will land on Varadkar’s desk this week.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution will meet for the first time this week. The cross-party committee is tasked with discussing the recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly. Before the committee has even got going, there has already been trouble over the number of TDs and senators allowed to sit on it.

Senators are fighting for more seats, while there have also been arguments about whether members can rotate their seat between colleagues. Fine Gael also had trouble finding members to sit on the committee with not many politicians willing to put their head above the parapet on the issue.

The committee’s first meeting is being held in private tomorrow, where it’s understood a chair will be selected. It is expected that Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer will be elected.

LEO WINS 0336_90513942 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Junior Minister for Mental Health Helen McEntee. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Picking his junior ministers 

Varadkar also faces some challenges within his own party today. He is due to announce his junior ministries at Cabinet, and it’s likely that some won’t be very happy if they don’t get the nod.

He has already said there will be disappointments, so this week could get a little awkward for the new leader as he attempts to please everybody.

Theresa May reaches deal with DUP and will visit Buckingham Palace to form government. End. UK Prime Minister Theresa May during her visit to Ireland this year. Source: RollingNews.ie

Brexit talks 

And if it wasn’t already obvious, it really is straight into the deep end this week for Varadkar. Especially when it comes to Brexit.

Talks between all sides kicked off yesterday, just one year since Britain voted to leave the European Union. Europe’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier met with the UK’s Brexit minister, David Davis MP, while Varadkar met with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Barnier is reporting back to the leaders of the EU27 at a two-day summit of the European Council on Thursday and Friday. This will be the first taste of the Brexit talks for the new Taoiseach, with Leo Varadkar in attendance at the meeting.

So, all in all, a busy week for the new leader.

Read: Fianna Fáil accuses government of ‘ramming through’ Court of Appeal appointment>

Read: ‘There will be disappointments’: There just aren’t enough junior ministries to keep Leo supporters happy

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