Varadkar, Coveney and Harris should retain roles, Greens say

Temporary national unity government to tackle Covid-19 crisis urged by Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the country that this St Patrick’s Day is a day no one will ever forget. Video: RTÉ

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has proposed that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris remain in their jobs as part of a temporary national unity government.

Mr Ryan outlined the proposal in a letter to all other party leaders in which he further elaborated on his party’s call for a national unity government to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

It had been assumed that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin would be Taoiseach first if he forms a government with Fine Gael, and would rotate the position with Mr Varadkar.

However, some in Fine Gael have now raised the prospect of Mr Varadkar being Taoiseach first to continue dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on Friday said the idea of a national unity government should be examined but others, such as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour have been cool on the proposal. *

A Green Party spokesman said the proposal was intended to ensure there was no disruption in key departments and to also stimulate discussion. It is also understood Mr Ryan put no time limits on how long Mr Varadkar, Mr Coveney and Mr Harris would remain in place.

Ms McDonald had previously downplayed the idea of a unity government but, in her latest comments, left the door open to it while still expressing some doubts.

‘Respond quickly’

“We need to look at every option,” she told Today FM. “The issue with a national unity government is how exactly would it work and would it be coherent enough to respond quickly.

“That is the concern but, yes, there is merit of course in all of the political forces coming together because we all represent different sections of our people, whatever our views on other political matters.

“It is one of the options on the table. I still think a better option would be a government for change that reflects the outcome of the last election but I don’t hold all of the cards in this and my concern and our concern at this time is to do the right thing for people and certainly that unity government option needs to be looked at, absolutely.”

Sinn Féin sources also raised concerns about how the Dáil and Seanad will function by passing measures and by giving oversight to proposals to tackle the crisis,

The issue of the appointment of 11 Senators by a new Taoiseach was also raised by those in Sinn Féin as an issue that may have to be dealt with. There is concern that no legislation can be passed by the Oireachtas once the incoming Seanad is elected until a new government is formed.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: “. . . Our concern at this time is to do the right thing for people and certainly that unity government option needs to be looked at, absolutely.” Photograph: Collins
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: “. . . Our concern at this time is to do the right thing for people and certainly that unity government option needs to be looked at, absolutely.” Photograph: Collins

‘National crisis’

The two candidates for the leadership of Labour – Alan Kelly and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – also downplayed the idea of a national unity government but raised the prospect of their party’s six TDs allowing a new government take office by either voting for it or abstaining. Both raised concerns, however, about moving ministers in the immediate future at a time of national crisis.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said: “If two of the three power blocs in the house have an agreement to form a government and that government can lead us through this period, I think the Labour Party would be working with that government in facilitating without taking part in that government necessarily.”

Mr Kelly said: “At this moment in time, we need to focus on the next 10 days to two weeks [as they] are critical for this country.

“If there is a government to be formed and it needs to facilitated, in the interests if the country, then the Labour Party as usual will put the country first and would have discussions on that.”

* This article was amended on Saturday, March 21st, 2010.