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Trouble Brewing

Michael McGrath says Varadkar should have discussed Finance portfolio handover 'privately'

He said that Varadkar’s handover plan would be a ‘division of the Department of Finance’.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Sep 2022

MINISTER FOR PUBLIC Expenditure, Michael McGrath, has said that the Tánaiste should have raised issues about a handover of the Minister for Finance job in private with the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar has said publicly that his party has no issue allowing the finance portfolio, currently held by Fine Gael minister Paschal Donohoe, to be given to a Fianna Fáil politician when the role of Taoiseach is swapped between parties in December.

The ‘rotating Taoiseach’ plan between the two largest partners in the coalition would see one party run the Department of Finance while the other holds the head of government.

Speaking about Varadkar’s comments on the finance issue on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Fianna Fáil minister McGrath said the details of the handover are “very much a matter for the party leaders.”

“I would make the point that I think it should be discussed privately. It has been aired publicly now on a number of occasions and it has yet to be raised with the Taoiseach.”

“And I think that is a far better way of dealing with what is a very important issue for our country. My focus and the focus of Minister Donohoe in the next week or so will be on delivering the budget,” he stated.

McGrath has been the likely candidate to replace Donohoe in the December handover, which led to speculation that Ireland could lose its position as having the president of the Eurogroup if Donohoe ceases to be Minister for Finance.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said in recent days that Ireland and Minister Donohoe could still maintain the position even if Donohoe left the finance role in the handover.

He told RTÉ yesterday that the president of the Eurogroup doesn’t have to be the Irish Finance Minister; “that’s what I think will be in interest of the country.”

“It’s not about anybody having a job or having status. It’s about a small country, being at the top table.”

When asked about the issue, McGrath said:

“I think it is important to note that the Minister for Finance is the person who represents the country at the Eurogroup. Not to have that continue, would represent a significant diminution in the role of the Minister for Finance.”

“It would also raise questions about who answers in Dáil Éireann in respect of matters to do with European economic policy, capital, markets, banking, union, and so on. And it does sound like tantamount to a division of the Department of Finance, which is not something that we would agree with.”

“But again, the Tánaiste should be discussing these issues directly with the Taoiseach,” he added.

If the Minister of Finance in December is not representing Ireland in the Eurogroup it would mean that a significant part of the Department of Finance would be reporting to a a different minister, which is “not something that’s credible,” he said.

Speaking to reporters today, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said he expects a Fianna Fail colleague to take the finance position in December.

“Parity of esteem within the three party coalition is central.”

When asked if he would prioritise this over losing the presidency of the Eurogroup, O’Brien said: “I think as the Tánaiste said, I don’t think it necessarily means that at all.”

Also on This Week Minister McGrath said that a range of targeted schemes could be used for specific groups who may be struggling with the cost of living crisis, such as people living alone, the elderly and families.

He added that the government believed that committing to an energy price-cap would be like signing a blank cheque to energy companies for an unforeseeable period of time.

“We do have significant resources to deploy. We’re not going to use all of them immediately. Because we recognise high energy costs in particular are going to be with us for many months to come. And we will have to have capacity and firepower if necessary to respond next year to the kind of pressures that you rightly highlighted.”

McGrath also said that any movement to introduce a windfall tax on energy companies in line with the EU would come after next week’s budget and the government did not yet have a solid figure as to how much money the tax could generate.

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