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TD Fergus O'Dowd Alamy Stock Photo
minister of state

Gaeltacht junior ministry given to Fianna Fáil amid claims offer made to outgoing Fine Gael TD

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht yesterday.

CLAIMS HAVE BEEN circulating that before the junior ministry brief for the Gaeltacht was passed over to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd was offered the position but only if he promised to seek re-election.

Yesterday, the decision by Taoiseach Simon Harris to pass the Gaeltacht brief over to Fianna Fáil with the appointment of TD Thomas Byrne as Minister of State with special responsibility for the Gaeltacht, was met with surprise by many. 

Parliamentary party members of Fine Gael have also reacted with disappointment to the decision.

The Journal has heard from multiple sources that the position was offered to outgoing Fine Gael TD for Louth Fergus O’Dowd, who is a fluent Irish speaker, but only on the condition that he would seek re-election.

Multiple sources have said O’Dowd was made a “significant offer” on the condition that he seek reelection but that he declined. 

However, cold water has been poured over the suggestion that an offer was made by those in Government circles. It is understood that Harris was only minded to offer ministry positions to those who would run again in the next election.

Explaining the decision to pass the brief to Fianna Fáil yesterday, the Government’s spokesperson said the three coalition leaders agreed the brief needed to be in the Department of the Gaeltacht. 

It had previously sat within the Department of Housing alongside the Office of Public Works brief. 

Lack of Irish speakers

However, others within Fine Gael have told The Journal that there is a shortfall of available TDs within the party who have sufficient Irish language skills. 

Fine Gael senator Seán Kyne, who has previously served as Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht while he was a TD, said if the party appointed someone who wasn’t comfortable speaking the language then it would have caused concern and led to the ire of Gaeltacht groups. 

He said while he believes Deputy Thomas Byrne is “very well capable” to be minister for the Gaeltacht, the decision does raise a question about the importance of having Irish speakers within the party. 

Kyne said of those within the Fine Gael ranks, Deputy Fergus O’Dowd would have been the most appropriate if he was not retiring. 

He noted Senator Barry Ward is also a fluent Irish speaker, but that he would not be suitable for the position because he is a senator and not a TD. 

“The options were limited,” he said. 

“It would also be difficult, even if somebody was given it who wasn’t 100% confident in the language, they would have to be learning Irish while also doing the job, while also facing down the barrel of a general election.

“So it wouldn’t be easy on that person,” Kyne added. 

Meanwhile, former Cabinet minister and Fine Gael TD for Mayo Micheal Ring said he was very disappointed with the decision to pass the brief to Fianna Fáil. 

“It’s a very important department for me in Mayo. We got substantial work done over the last couple of years in the Gaeltacht because we had Fine Gael ministers there that were interested in it,” he said.

Yesterday, Ring said he was offered a junior ministerial position by new Taoiseach Simon Harris on the condition that he seek reelection but he did not accept it. 

Speaking to The Journal today, Ring refused to say what positions he was offered but said it was not the Gaeltacht brief.

“I don’t have Irish so I’m not even going to pretend,” Ring said. 

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