Leo Varadkar: ‘I was elected to lead but I promise to serve’

The Taoiseach promotes a new generation of Fine Gael as he reshuffles his Cabinet

Leo Varadkar was elected Taoiseach yesterday and immediately announced a Cabinet reshuffle in which he promoted several Fine Gael TDs to leadership positions.

Mr Varadkar also reconfigured some Government departments and made the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure the responsibility of, Paschal Donohoe.

Ten years to the day since he entered the Dáil as a TD, Mr Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny following a vote which he won by 57 to 50, with 45 TDs abstaining.

In his acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his predecessor whose leadership, he said, “enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country only two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office – an aspiration which I once thought was beyond my reach, at least if I chose to be myself.”

The election of Mr Varadkar, who is 38-years-old, a gay man and the son of an immigrant from India, has made headlines around the world.

Declaring that he was "elected to lead but I promise to serve," Mr Varadkar strongly recommitted himself to the Coalition arrangement with Independent TDs, supported by Fianna Fáil.

European centre

“The Government I will lead will be one of the new European centre, as we seek to build a republic of opportunity that is a republic in which every citizen gets a fair go and has the opportunity to succeed, and in which every part of the country has a chance to share in our prosperity,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil after his election.

Later, Mr Varadkar returned from Áras an Uachtaráin for a series of phone calls with European leaders and meetings with his incoming Cabinet.

As expected, Mr Donohoe was given the additional responsibility for the Department of Finance, though the two departments will remain separate.

Simon Coveney, who Mr Varadkar made deputy Fine Gael leader after defeating him in the party leadership contest, becomes Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Charlie Flanagan moves from Iveagh House to the Department of Justice, and Frances Fitzgerald, who will stay on as Tánaiste, moves to the Department of Enterprise.

There were promotions to the Cabinet for Mr Varadkar's campaign manager Eoghan Murphy, who takes the housing portfolio, for veteran Mayo TD Michael Ring, who becomes Minister for Community and Rural Affairs and for former chief whip Regina Doherty, who takes on the Taoiseach's former role in the Department of Social Protection.

A new Department of Culture will succeed the Department of Arts and Heritage but Heather Humphreys will remain at the helm.

After much speculation that he was in line for the sack, Simon Harris was retained as Minister for Health and given responsibility for delivering a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year.

Richard Bruton will remain in charge of the Department of Education.

Mr Varadkar signalled that he will seek to change Dáil rules that allow equal speaking time for small and large parties, a move that is likely to be fiercely resisted by the smaller parties and non-Government independents.

“It is important in a democracy to have diversity. However, democracy is also about proportionality,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Therefore, the equal right to speak must also apply to Ministers and backbenchers of this party and also members of the main Opposition party”.

The only loser in Mr Varadkar’s much-anticipated but cautious reshuffle was former minister for jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

She loses her full Cabinet position in charge of a department but was appointed a super junior Minister in charge of higher education.

She will continue to sit at Cabinet but does not have a vote or command over a departmental budget.

Rejected an offer

Government sources said the delay in announcing the Cabinet line up was because Mrs Mitchell O’Connor had rejected an offer of a junior ministry in the Department of Justice, with responsibility for equality and law reform.

However, it is understood she declined that position and held a second meeting with Mr Varadkar which led to her new role. Sources close to Mr Varadkar said Ms O’Connor “made her dissatisfaction known”.

A number of Ministers of State including Sean Kyne and key backbenchers including John Paul Phelan were known to be deeply disappointed at the reshuffle last night. Mr Varadkar will announce his junior ministers next week.