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SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Varadkar intends to remain FG leader as search for Hogan replacement continues

Updated 27/08/2020 9.55pm. Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said his intention is to continue leading the Fine Gael party.

Asked if he would like the role of an EU commissioner, Mr Varadkar said: “My intention is to continue to lead my party, to work hard in my job as Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and to become Taoiseach again in 2022.”

He went on to describe Mr Hogan as “a good colleague and very good friend”.

“He is somebody who I reappointed as head of government, as commissioner because he did such a good job in his previous role,” Mr Varadkar added.

“But the situation developed as it did. He was given an opportunity to explain his whereabouts and his movements within Ireland and to confirm that he had been following the public health guidelines and unfortunately over a period of days it transpired that he had not.

“Ultimately this was a decision that was made by President von der Leyen, not one by the Irish Government.

“I think it was the right decision in the end but of course lots of regrets.”

The World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro has said that he was very impressed with the fact that Ireland had shown the same rules applied to everyone in the fight against the virus.

It follows the resignation of EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan from his role last night, a week after he sat down for a controversial dinner with the Oireachtas Golf Society in Co Galway.

“There is something extraordinary about what is happening in Ireland,” Dr Nabarro told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

He said Ireland was showing that the same rules apply to everyone, even an EU Commissioner: “That’s a beautiful thing, but what a terrible price to pay.”

Dr Nabarro said that he knew Mr Hogan and admired him: “This guy has done so many fabulous things. People think he’s one of the best.” He said Mr Hogan’s departure was sad, but important as it indicated that the same rules applied to everybody.

“So congratulations and commiserations to Ireland in the one breath," he said.

Replacement

The Irish Government is now set to discuss Mr Hogan's replacement, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to write to Taoiseach Micheál Martin this evening in relation to a successor.

The former commissioner's resignation means that Ireland, for the moment, does not have a representative overseeing one of the most powerful jobs in Brussels - a crucial portfolio as the Brexit deadline on New Year's Eve draws closer.

Labour leader Alan Kelly says the Government should nominate Ireland's new commissioner before the weekend in order to try and maintain the Trade Commissioner role for the country.

However, the ultimate decision as to who fills the position remains with President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who may decide to reshuffle her cabinet following Mr Hogan's departure.

The Taoiseach said he spoke to Ms von der Leyen earlier today about the new appointment: “I think she appreciated the fact that at no stage did I seek at any time to influence her.”

“The three party leaders, myself, the Tánaiste and Minister Eamon Ryan will meet to discuss this, and it’s fair to say that our shared objective will be that a person of very, very high calibre will be nominated by the Irish Government.

“Now, the president will be writing to me in terms of seeking two nominees in terms of the gender issue, we will look at that and we will respond.”

Gender balance

Speaking at a press conference concerning Mr Hogan's departure, Ms von der Leyen invited the Irish Government to nominate both a man and a woman for the role of Irish representative in the Commission, adding that she would decide the final allocation of portfolios "at a later stage".

It comes as Dublin MEP Barry Andrews said he expects Ms von der Leyen to appoint a woman to the now vacant Trade Commission position, as she is very ambitious to achieve gender balance in the Commission.

Mr Andrews told RTÉ radio’s News at One that the departure of Phil Hogan was “an enormous strategic loss for Ireland” but was inevitable when Mr Hogan was “too slow” to apologise and “stood over his misinterpretation” of the Covid-19 guidelines.

Mr Andrews, who is a member of the Trade Commission, said it was a portfolio of enormous importance with “massive issues coming down the line.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, Vice-president of the European Parliment Mairead McGuinness and former commission official David O'Sullivan are some of the names being tipped for the Government's proposals.

Other names that have been mentioned include former taoiseach Enda Kenny, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party Richard Bruton and current Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, though Mr Varadkar has ruled himself out of the running: “My intention is to continue to lead my party, to work hard in my job as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and to become Taoiseach again in 2022.”

Resignation

In a statement issued last night, Mr Hogan said: "It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU Commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.

"I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland – the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life - caused such concern, unease and upset."

Last Wednesday night he attended a Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden, which 80 other people attended. He also came under scrutiny for travelling outside of Kildare before his 14 days of self-isolation were up.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Ryan released a statement acknowledging his resignation, saying while it must have been a difficult decision for him personally, "we believe that it is the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week. We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations."

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also released a statement on the resignation of Phil Hogan saying: "Commissioner Phil Hogan has submitted his resignation. I respect his decision.

"I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a Trade Commissioner since the start of this mandate and for his successful term as Commissioner in charge of Agriculture in the previous College.

"He was a valuable and respected member of the College. I wish him all the best for the future."

Second chance

Former German MEP Elmar Brok has said that Mr Hogan deserved a second chance and had been the “perfect” Trade Commissioner.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Mr Brok said he very much regretted the resignation but nobody was so strong that they could not be replaced: “A second chance would have been a good thing.”

He said he could not predict if Ireland would keep the Trade portfolio, as Mr Hogan had been chosen “on purpose” for the role.

Speaking about the Covid-19 guidelines Mr Hogan said: "I have always tried to comply with all relevant Covid-19 regulations in Ireland and had understood that I had met with all relevant public health guidelines, particularly following confirmation of a negative Covid-19 test.

"I reiterate my heartfelt apology to the Irish people for the mistakes I made during my visit. The Irish people have made incredible efforts to contain the coronavirus, and the European Commission will continue to support you, and all EU Member States, in defeating this terrible pandemic," he added.

"I recognise and appreciate the devastating impact of Covid-19 on individuals and families, and I fully understand their sense of hurt and anger when they feel that those in public service do not meet the standards expected of them," he said.

Mr Hogan added that he wanted to make it clear that he did not break any law but as a public representative he said should have been more rigorous in my adherence to the Covid-19 guidelines.

Mr Hogan has been in position of EU Trade Commissioner since 2019 and he said "it has been the honour of my life to serve as European Commissioner, first in Agriculture and Rural Development and then in Trade. I believe the project of European Union is our shared continent's crowning achievement: a force for peace and prosperity the likes of which the world has never seen.

"It has been my priority as EU Trade Commissioner to strengthen this global leadership role in trade, and to boost Europe's capacity to protect itself from unfair trading practices."

Part of his role was commissioner was to vouch for Ireland during Brexit negotiations especially when it comes to the issue of the UK leaving the single market.

He added that "Brexit also represents a significant challenge for the EU and for Ireland in particular for which I have been centrally involved from the outset. I hope that the EU Member States, with Ireland at their vanguard, and the UK, can overcome their differences and work together to reach a fair, mutually beneficial and sustainable trade deal. EU and UK citizens and businesses deserve nothing less."

He finished: "I would like to thank President von der Leyen, my fellow Commissioners, Council members and MEPs for their support and encouragement since my appointment as EU Trade Commissioner. I would also like to thank my Cabinet, team and family for their support."