Independent Ministers happy to work with either FG contender

McGrath stresses that Independents are not involved in any way in leadership election

 Denis Naughten: “I’d be quite happy to work with either. It’s irrelevant to me which is elected”

Denis Naughten: “I’d be quite happy to work with either. It’s irrelevant to me which is elected”

 

Some Independent Ministers may have been quietly hoping that Fine Gael Minister for Housing Simon Coveney would become Taoiseach, but none have anything negative to say about Minister for Social Welfare Leo Varadkar.

The Cork man impressed Independent Deputies with his work ethic during long-running talks last year in Trinity College and elsewhere to form an administration.

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Some of the Independents were less complimentary about Mr Varadkar, complaining that he was constantly using his mobile phone to check social media. But that was then, and this is now.

A reshuffle of the senior and junior ranks will take place soon, and while an “unwritten protocol” leads the Independent Ministers involved in the Fine Gael-led minority administration to believe they will retain their positions, new relationships will have to be forged quickly.

Independent Alliance Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan paid tribute to Mr Coveney for his leading role in the government-formation negotiations, but said issues such as the Waterford Crystal pensions dispute meant he had dealt more with Mr Varadkar in the last year.

“We wouldn’t have got it over the line without Leo. He was constantly in contact with me by text, by phone. I was getting texts and phone calls from him at night time. I found him to be very compassionate towards the glass factory workers,” Mr Halligan said.

The tone of Mr Varadkar’s recent “Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All” advertising campaign, encouraging people to report suspected fraud, made some Independents uncomfortable, but they have learned the necessity of compromise in government.

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Asked about Mr Varadkar’s “right-wing” image, Independent Alliance “Super Junior” Minister Finian McGrath said: “People can label people.”

Mr McGrath, who has special responsibility for disability issues, stressed the Independents were not involved in the Fine Gael leadership election in any way, and were not looking for a renegotiation of the programme for government.

“When the new Taoiseach is elected we’ll be seeking to revisit the programme for government and implement key things that not enough has been done on,” he said.

“I’ve a very good professional and personal relationship with Leo Varadkar. I’d work a lot with Leo in relation to carers’ allowance, respite care and so on. There’s no problem with Leo. There’s no problem with Simon. There are no issues personality-wise.”

Independent Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said of both contenders: “I know both of them for years, before they were elected to the Dáil. I’d be quite happy to work with either. It’s irrelevant to me which is elected.”

Mr Naughten said he believed the Government would continue with “business as usual” once the new Taoiseach was in place.

“The reality is from our perspective we have an agreement with the Fine Gael party, not any individual. It was negotiated on that basis. I expect whoever is elected leader will remain committed to that, and it will be a matter of business as usual.”

Different styles

Dónall Geoghegan, political co-ordinator and adviser to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Mr Naughten, projected a relaxed attitude about the pair’s ability to make things work with either Mr Varadkar or Mr Coveney.

“Both have very different styles, but we’ll adjust and they’ll adjust. It’s a different role being a Taoiseach from just a Minister. Most of the adjustment will be on their side.”

Mr Geoghegan confirmed Ms Zappone and Mr Naughten did not expect to be moved from their posts. “They don’t want to move, and it would be unusual if they were moved. There’s an unwritten protocol that you don’t make moves like that.”

However, Cabinet appointments are always at the discretion of the Taoiseach of the day. He may have other ideas about how to use the talents of the Independent Ministers.

There has been speculation the majority of Independents would prefer Mr Coveney on the grounds they believed he would prove more predictable than his rival.