At least six Ministers should stay home this St Patrick’s Day, says Fianna Fáil
Foreign affairs spokesman says ‘key members’ should remain due to Brexit concerns
Theresa May and Leo Varadkar at the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Egypt on Monday. Last week Mr Varakdar said contingency plans were in place to recall Ministers travelling abroad for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
The Government decision to send all 15 senior Ministers abroad for the St Patrick’s Day Festival in the weeks before the Brexit deadline looms has been described by Fianna Fáil as rash and poorly thought out.
The party’s foreign affairs spokesman questioned the rationale behind 11 of the 15 senior Ministers travelling to either the Americas or other long-haul destinations less than a fortnight before the critical March 29th deadline.
He said at least six key members of Cabinet should have foregone the foreign visits and stayed in Ireland to prepare for Brexit.
“I agree that St Patrick’s week is a very important time for Ministers to sell Ireland abroad and it has worked well.
“But this is no ordinary year. Given the unique circumstances of Brexit, I really do not think that every Minister should clear out of Ireland,” he said.
“At least half a dozens key members of the Cabinet should be around the place because Brexit is at such a delicate stage.”
He said if an emergency situation arose there were key Cabinet members who would take at least a day to get back to Dublin.
However, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney responded robustly to the criticism. His spokesman pointed out that such work during St Patrick’s week had helped boost Ireland’s trade with China from €100 million a decade ago to nearly €1 billion today.
“This year the visits have been designed from the start with Brexit in mind,” said the spokesman.
“Firstly, the Taoiseach will go to Washington DC for a very important bilateral with the US president.
“Other senior Ministers are staying very close to home. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will be in the UK, our closest neighbour.
“The Tánaiste will be out of the country for three days visiting our EU partners over St Patrick’s weekend and would have been in Brussels anyway for a meeting of foreign ministers on Brexit,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s foreign affairs spokesman Seán Crowe said the opportunity for Irish Ministers to gain access and raise Ireland’s profile was unprecedented and very important.
“Mr Coveney and Mr Donohoe are both not travelling from Ireland and they can easily return if recalled. Simon Coveney’s trips are to Brussels, France and Germany, which make sense,” he said.
Besides the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, other senior Ministers travelling to the US are Charlie Flanagan (New York); Simon Harris (San Francisco); and Michael Ring (Chicago). Chief whip Seán Kyne is visiting Boston while Attorney General Séamus Woulfe will be in Washington DC. Richard Bruton is visiting Canada, Joe McHugh will be in China, while Josepha Madigan will be in Japan and South Korea.
Heather Humphreys is visiting Australia and New Zealand; Eoghan Murphy will be in Argentina; Shane Ross is in the United Arab Emirates; Katherine Zappone will visit South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
In what seems like a personal concession, the left-leaning Minister of State Finian McGrath is visiting Cuba, as well as Mexico.
Last week Mr Varakdar said contingency plans were in place to recall Ministers travelling abroad for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, in light of ongoing uncertainty over Brexit.
But he said he himself was making “quite a short trip” to Washington and Chicago and believed it was an important time to go.
“We have put in place contingency planning to recall Ministers from overseas if we need to. We have a backup plan,” he said.