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'It's like an army general giving orders: You do what you're told' - Varadkar

The Transport Minister has been talking about the upcoming reshuffle, the Rugby World Cup and why he prefers Frances Fitzgerald to Alan Shatter.

Leo Varadkar (File photo)
Leo Varadkar (File photo)
Image: Sam Boal

TRANSPORT MINISTER LEO Varadkar has refused to be drawn on what department he would like to take over if he is moved in the upcoming Government reshuffle.

Speaking on Today with Seán O’Rourke, Varadkar said that he was equally happy to stay put or move departments.

“That’s entirely the prerogative of the Taoiseach. It’s a bit like a manager picking his team or an army general handing out orders – you pretty much do what you’re told.”

Varadkar said he had “delivered” in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, but was ready for a new “challenge” or, indeed, to be told “[The Taoiseach] no longer has room for me”.

The Dublin-West TD, who is a doctor, is tipped as one of the frontrunners to replace Health Minister James Reilly in the reshuffle.

Varadkar said that he was not involved in any lobbying for a new position, adding that it was unfair for colleagues to “undermine” people already in those roles.

I really don’t want to get into that speculation.

“There’s a certain amount of lobbying going on which I’m not involved in.” He said there was “always a degree of that in politics”.

“It’s not so much the politicians themselves, it’s often, you know, the people around them or interests around them. People trying to make sure that a certain region is represented or certain interests are represented.”

He noted that Reilly has done “a very good job”, under difficult circumstances compounded by about 10% fewer staff, 10% more patients and in the region of 20% less funding.

“There’ll be disappointment for those who don’t get preferment or those who are dropped,” Varadkar admitted.

Fitzgerald vs Shatter

He said it wasn’t a secret that he gets on better with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald than he did with her predecessor Alan Shatter

That wouldn’t be a secret. Alan and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on certain issues.

Varadkar said Fitzgerald has been “a bit of a mentor in some ways”, recalling how he interned in her office while in Transition Year.

He noted that she “really gets” road safety issues, saying: “She’s an ally in that regard.”

The Minister said that his comments describing the Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson as “distinguished” was “a game changer” in terms of Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Shatter stepping down, although he “didn’t realise [it] at the time”.

Varadkar said that the comments came “after a year of frustration on my part” at how the whistleblowers were treated.

He denied his actions proved he wasn’t a team player, saying Shatter’s resignation was triggered by a number of controversies surrounding An Garda Síochána.

“I was only involved in the issues related to penalty points,” he stated, adding: “I try my best to be a team player … someone who does my best for the party.”

Varadkar said he understood Shatter’s complaint about not being interviewed by Senior Counsel Seán Guerin for his investigation into allegations of Garda misconduct.

However, he added: “There is a certain irony in the fact that [Assistant Garda Commissioner, John] O’Mahony and the gardaí, who were in charge of the penalty points inquiry … didn’t make any real efforts to interview the whistleblowers.”

He said that the Government accepts the findings of the Guerin report.

Appointments to State boards

Varadkar said that Oireachtas Committees now vet the possible chairs of all State agencies and boards.

He noted that while some appointees have links to certain parties, “most of the people I’ve appointed actually probably have no political affiliation at all”.

The Minister said that it was sometimes necessary to headhunt people to get the right person for a certain position. He cited appointing former Ryanair Deputy CEO Michael Cawley as the Chair of Fáilte Ireland as an example of this, noting: “He’s not the type of person that would have sent in a CV.”

Rugby World Cup

Varadkar said that the €30 million upgrade to Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork was necessary as part of Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“We do need that stadium actually to win the bid.”

In the interview, the Minister also denied that the Government was considering scrapping the free transport scheme for the elderly.

It’s not on the agenda to take the free travel pass from pensioners.

However, he said that the Department of Social Protection would be “trying to modernise the scheme and retain it”.

Varadkar noted that the number of passes in circulation, including companion and spouse passes, was in excess of 1 million.

He added that there were a number of counterfeit passes being used as well as “people misusing companion passes”.

Read: Varadkar says Callinan should withdraw ‘disgusting’ remarks – but gardaí say he won’t

Read: ‘We might need the stretcher for the reshuffle’: €200,000 boost for mountain rescue teams

Read: Shatter: ‘I was secretly put on trial, and wasn’t given a chance to defend myself’

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Órla Ryan

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