MINISTER Simon Coveney has wished the nominees for the position of EU Commissioner well, after it emerged that his name wasn’t one of the two put forward to the President of the European Commission.
Speculation had been mounting that the Cork South Central TD would be one of the two names put forward to Ursula von der Leyen, as he was seen as the most experienced person for the job.
It was also thought that if he was chosen as Phil Hogan’s successor, it was Ireland’s best chance at holding on to the trade portfolio.
However, Vice President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness; and Andrew McDowell, who was until recently Vice President of the European Investment Bank, were the two names put forward for the position.
Mr McDowell is also a former adviser to the Fine Gael party while Ms McGuinness has served as a Fine Gael MEP since 2004.
Mairead McGuinness is seen as the favourite to take the position.
In a statement the Government said it “believes that both are candidates of the highest calibre, possessing the necessary competence, independence and European commitment to serve in the role of Commissioner with distinction.”
President von der Leyen will now consult with the European Parliament and will interview both candidates next week before the appointment of a new Commissioner is made by the Council.
The statement added: “The question of the allocation of roles within the Commission is also one for President von der Leyen. However, the Government firmly believes that both candidates have demonstrated that they have experience, skills and capacity to serve and to make a contribution in the most demanding roles.”
The vacancy arose after Phil Hogan resigned from his role as European Commissioner as it emerged he was one of 81 people who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden last month.
The attendees were accused of disregarding coronavirus restrictions limiting the number of people able to gather indoors. The controversy resulted in a series of political casualties, with agriculture minister Dara Calleary also resigning.
Mr Hogan initially refused to quit but pressure increased on him after it emerged he had also undertaken extensive travel around Ireland during a two-week period after his return to the island from Brussels. Travellers entering the country from Belgium were required to quarantine for 14 days. He had been the EU’s commissioner for trade and had been expected to play a key role in negotiating the post-Brexit deal with the UK.
It has not been decided what portfolio Ireland’s next commissioner will be handed.
If Minister Coveney had been put forward to take his place, it would have triggered a by-election in the Cork South Central constituency. Senator Jerry Buttimer, who also ran in the last general election in the same constituency, was another of the Golfgate attendees and could potentially have been overlooked as the Fine Gael candidate in any potential by-election, in favour of Councillor Des Cahill.
However, Green Party Councillor Lorna Bogue had polled well in the constituency in her last outing in February, and could have challenged for the seat.
It is not known if this is the reason Minister Coveney’s name was not put forward for the position, or if his interest in the position had diminished as it seemed less and less likely he would be able to retain the trade portfolio if chosen. However, he did tweet to congratulate the nominees, and wished both Ms McGuinness and Mr McDowell luck and said they were “two great candidates for the job.”
Meanwhile, former MEP Frances Fitzgerald had been touted as one of the other potential names that could be put forward for the role.
Following the Government’s announcement, she welcomed that a woman and man were selected: “Both are excellent candidates for the role of EU Commissioner and I wish them every success in the time ahead.
“This is a critical and important time for Ireland and the EU given the imminent challenges of Brexit and Covid-19,” she said.
“I have no doubt that the government has considered carefully the appropriate mix of candidates and skills. Personally, I feel very honoured at the encouragement and support I have received from so many during this period,” Ms Fitzgerald added.