Varadkar ‘would not run from new challenge’

Minister for Transport comments amid reports of possible move to health portfolio

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo VaradkarL:  said today he had things he wished to finish in his transport role, including work on road safety next year. Photograph:  Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo VaradkarL: said today he had things he wished to finish in his transport role, including work on road safety next year. Photograph: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 11:08

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said he is happy to remain in his current role amid reports he is being considered for the health porfolio in a Cabinet reshuffle next year.

Mr Varadkar said today he had things he wished to finish in his transport role, including work on road safety next year.

He said that while he would like to continue in that portfolio to continue to pursue some of projects he was currently working on he added: “To quote Michael Collins we govern to serve not to rule and I’m willing to serve anywhere the Taoiseach wants me.”

Questioned as to whether this meant he “wouldn’t run screaming” from the prospect of becoming the Minister for Health he said: “I wouldn’t run screaming from any challenge.”

Separately, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he was optimistic about visitor numbers to Ireland for next year in the wake of the success of The Gathering tourism initiative in 2013.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed that a Cabinet reshuffle will take place in the second half of next year and he has pledged to promote talented backbenchers.

In a Christmas interview with political correspondents, Mr Kenny said he would like to give an opportunity for the talent in both government parties.

“I certainly would like to see that people who work very hard and who show real ability should be given the chance to demonstrate that.”

He said the opportunity to promote talent had been limited by the Government decision to reduce the number of Ministers of State from 21 to 15 when it took office. “We made that decision but clearly I’d like to think that the talent that is there in the benches would be given its opportunity to serve and give vent to their flair.”

Mr Kenny said the reshuffle would take place in the second half of the year. This would be after the European elections in May and the appointment of Ireland’s new European commissioner later in the summer.

He refused to comment on speculation that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is the leading contender for the European post, saying it would not be necessary to consider the issue for some time.

Mr Kenny also emphatically ruled out the prospect that he might take a senior European post, saying he fully intended to lead Fine Gael into the next election. While he was flattered to be mentioned in connection with important EU posts, he said he owed it to the Irish people to finish the job he had been elected to do.

Nonetheless, speculation in Brussels over the weekend continued to suggest that Mr Kenny is regarded by EU leaders as a top contender for the post of European Commission president.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Joseph Daul, the head of the European People’s Party (EPP), said Mr Kenny would be a serious candidate for the position, should he seek the party’s nomination for the post. He’s a very good candidate,” Mr Daul said.

“Candidates must now discuss it between themselves – between heads of state – to see who supports whom. We have a lot of prime ministers who are excellent. We’re going to discuss that during the month of January, until 13th February, and see which person emerges.”

The decisive EPP congress at which the candidate will be selected takes place in Dublin on March 6th. The official nomination procedure opening on February 13th and candidates then have until the Dublin meeting to put forward their case.

Other sitting prime ministers who are believed to be in the running are Jyrki Katainen of Finland and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk. A number of former prime ministers are believed to be interested.

One EU source said of Mr Kenny: “He is seen as politically astute and the fact that he is from a moderate right-wing party who is in coalition with Socialists is a strong advantage. He would not be as politically divisive as some of the more conservative centre-right candidates; good at building consensus.”

The position of European Council president, which will also be available next year, is widely seen as a more attractive option for sitting prime ministers given that prospective candidates are not required to declare their interest publicly.

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