Controversy masks delay in naming minister for agriculture
The celebrated pop artist Andy Warhol predicted everybody will get to be agriculture minister for 15 minutes. Well, if you want to be pedantic, he actually predicted everybody would in future get 15 minutes of fame.
But as the Government prepares to announce its third agriculture minister in two months – the fourth incumbent this year – you’ll get the Warhol reference is only a small exaggeration.
The week-long controversy about appointing a new EU commissioner has overshadowed the critical lack of Government leadership as the agri-food sector faces a host of unprecedented challenges from every angle.
The Government has stalled on announcing its selected candidates to replace Phil Hogan as European commissioner. While Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney had been widely expected to be the only name put forward, the three party leaders have now agreed to select two candidates which has complicated matters.
There are now doubts as to whether a decision will be made on the candidates today as sources last night said that it would take time to iron out some concerns.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had asked that the Government put forward one man and one woman candidate as she has placed significant emphasis on a gender balance. However, there was confusion yesterday when Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Cabinet that the three leaders had not yet decided to put forward two candidates.
However, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe later confirmed that the Government would be putting forward a woman and a man, telling Newstalk radio that it “won’t do anything that would cause insult to the president of the European Commission.”
European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness and former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald have also expressed an interest in the position. It is understood that the Government leaders were yesterday consulting with the potential candidates and there have been some background discussions with Brussels on the appointment and what position an Irish commissioner could be given.
Meanwhile, Co Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue is widely expected to be appointed Agriculture Minister today. The position was left vacant after the resignation of Dara Calleary following the golfgate controversy. It will be filled by the Taoiseach when the Dáil returns this afternoon.
Mr McConalogue, who served as the party’s agriculture spokesperson in opposition, would become the third Agriculture Minister in the current government after the resignations of Barry Cowen and Mr Calleary.
Mr Martin has been criticised for a lack of regional balance in his original Cabinet and was accused of ignoring the west of Ireland in his senior appointment. Mr McConalogue, who is a Junior Minister in the Department of Justice, has therefore been strongly tipped on the basis of geography.