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off to brussels

Government to sign off on Ireland's new EU commissioner with McGrath tipped for top job

Tanaiste Micheál Martin says he has spoken to Simon Harris about his choice.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has confirmed that he consulted with the Taoiseach about who he has selected to be Ireland’s new EU Commissioner. 

Speaking in Cork yesterday, Martin would not be drawn on who will get the top job, but speculation within government circles and the Fianna Fáil party is that Finance Minister Michael McGrath will be off to Brussels. 

Martin said he has spoken with Simon Harris and Minister Eamon Ryan about who will be the new commissioner, stating that he will bring the recommendation to government next week. 

Upon the formation of this government, it was decided that Fianna Fáil would appoint the next commissioner to replace Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness. 

There has been widespread speculation over the last year as to who might be picked. 

Commissioners are regarded as the highest-ranking diplomats in the EU and are the people who are put in charge of drafting and amending various types of new European policy.

Therefore, it is generally assumed that the person selected has to be a political heavy-hitter. 

Speaking in Cork earlier this month, McGrath said he was “completely focused” on his current job, stating that he would leave the matter up to the Tánaiste and other party leaders to decide upon. 

Asked if it was a role that would appeal to him, McGrath said: “I love the job I have and I’m only doing it for the last year and a half and I’m looking forward to the budget in October.”

He said he recognised the importance of the commissioner role for Ireland and for Europe. 

Harris said this week that the finance minister was “doing a very good job”, adding that  he has “full confidence in all members of the Cabinet all of whom are working hard”.

“As a member of the European Council, as somebody who is in Brussels this week, working on filling some of the top roles in Europe… it is really important that we send the best people to represent us in Europe,” said the Taoiseach.

“There are many people who would make fine commissioners,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said it is important to select the person “pretty quickly” so the process of  engagement with new European Commission president can begin on what role or portfolio might be best for that person and for Ireland. 

A number of sources The Journal spoke with this week stated that the McGrath is widely expected to be appointed to the position. 

“We will know next week,” said one, while another said they were 99% sure that it was McGrath. 

Another said the “smart money” is on McGrath, but the name is being closely kept under wraps.

Mini Cabinet reshuffle? 

The Tánaiste would not comment yesterday when asked if his choice will result in a mini Cabinet reshuffle, though with the appointment of Minister of State Jack Chambers to the position of deputy leader of Fianna Fáil this week, many within the party have viewed that as a precursor to him possibly taking on the finance portfolio.

Other names being spoken about who could step into McGrath’s ministry is the current Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien. 

Over the last few months, names other than McGrath’s have been mentioned for the commissionership, such as Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue. In April, he didn’t rule himself out for the role. 

Other names floated as a possibility over recent times has been the former Attorney General Paul Gallagher. 

One thing for certain, Martin is not minded to bring forward two names

The Journal asked the Tánaiste at the RDS count centre earlier this month if he is minded to put forward a male and female for the role, as was asked for by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen in previous years. 

However, Martin effectively ruled out such a move, stating:

We can, although part of me would say that the fundamental rules in terms of national decision-making should not be unduly undermined…

“That would be a traditional view of mine in terms of it’s a decision for each member state.

“We did do that on the last occasion, although it was done in a way that the outcome still became fairly, you know [clear]. So I think we need to be fair in demarcation lines as to the responsibilities, and in this instance, it’s the responsibility of the national government,” he added. 

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