Ireland can secure a ‘quality’ EU Commission portfolio – Taoiseach

Ireland remains well placed to secure a substantive EU Commission portfolio having selected two “high calibre” candidates, the Taoiseach has insisted.

The Government has proposed long-standing MEP Mairead McGuinness and senior banker Andrew McDowell as its two candidates to succeed Phil Hogan following his controversial resignation.

Mrs McGuinness is first vice president of the European Parliament and Mr McDowell is the former vice president of the European Investment Bank.

Mr Hogan 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 hold amid speculation it could be allocated a less prestigious role.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will interview the nominees next week ahead of the successful candidate being formally appointed by the European Council.

During a visit in Dublin on Friday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin expressed confidence that whoever succeeds Mr Hogan will be given a top job.

“Given the quality of the candidates put forward I believe we can get a portfolio of substance and of quality,” he said.

Mr McDowell is a former adviser to the Fine Gael party while Mrs McGuinness has served as a Fine Gael MEP since 2004.

Their selection ends speculation linking Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney or former government minister and current MEP Frances Fitzgerald with the vacant commissioner’s job.

Mr Hogan quit last month amid controversy surrounding his attendance at a golf event in Co Galway and his prior movements around the island when he was supposed to be self-isolating under travel quarantine guidelines.

Brexit
Phil Hogan had been due to play a key role in EU/UK trade talks (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Hogan was one of around 80 people who attended a parliamentary 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.

Cabinet ministers discussed and agreed the nominations on Friday.

European People’s Party Congress – Dublin
Mairead McGuinness is the first vice president of the European Parliament (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Martin said both candidates put forward by the Government had “significant international expertise”.

“One is a vice president of the parliament, has strong recognition across the European institutions, well thought of,” he said.

“The other is a very senior economist, former vice president of the European Investment Bank so they will have significant attributes to bring to the table.”

He added: “Those two names were chosen because they are very able people of high calibre.”

Ms von der Leyen tweeted: “The Taoiseach @MichealMartinTD has informed me of the nomination of @MaireadMcGMEP and @AMcDowell as the Irish candidates for the post of commissioner. I will interview them early next week on their qualifications for the job.”

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