Mayo TD Dara Calleary appointed Minister for Agriculture, replacing Barry Cowen

The appointment means the west of Ireland now has a senior Cabinet Minister

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has appointed Mayo TD Dara Calleary as Minister for Agriculture, after Barry Cowen was sacked last night over the ongoing drink driving revelations. Video: Oireachtas


Taoiseach Micheál Martin has appointed Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

He also intends to appoint Jack Chambers as Government Chief Whip and Laois Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming to replace Mr Chambers as Minister of State at the Department of Finance. He will seek Cabinet approval for these appointments on Wednesday evening.

Mr Fleming will have responsibility for financial services, credit unions and insurance. Mr Martin later clarified when asked by Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that Mr Chambers would also have responsibility for the Gaeltacht.

The moves follow the sacking of Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen as Minister for Agriculture on Tuesday night, amid continued controversy after it emerged he had had a drink-driving ban.

On Wednesday, Mr Cowen arrived into the upper gallery of the Dáil session taking place in Dublin’s Convention Centre, just as the debate ended on the new appointments. He spoke to a number of his Fianna Fáil colleagues, observed proceedings for a few minutes, and then left the gallery with party colleague John McGuinness.

During the short debate on the appointments the Taoiseach said that Mr Calleary would be a “very effective Minister” and that he will deliver on challenges facing the agriculture sector, including Brexit, climate change and the renegotiations of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the session there were real issues about how people’s personal private data was put out in public. He also said there was a “high bar” for standards in the political system. He said the current controversy had been a difficult political and personal issue, but he believed the Government would work “cohesively”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said they could not forget that the new appointments had been made arising from a major controversy.

She said people remembered previous Fianna Fáil governments and their failure to answer questions. The party was back in Government and “here we go again”, she added.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that it has not been a good start for the Government. He told the session he hoped today would be a “watermark” and that the Government could get on with its job.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said there had previously been a lot of attention on the lack of an appointment of a Minister from the west, but she said that “there is no such thing as a minister for the west”. She said there was “something very wrong in politics when that is how it is perceived. A minister can’t be a minister for a region or a certain constituency.”

Rise TD Paul Murphy claimed the Taoiseach “colluded with Barry Cowen to keep vital information from the Dáil”.

Independent Denis Naughten said he was shocked and really sorry to hear his “neighbour” Barry Cowen had been sacked. Mr Naughten, who resigned as minister for communications in a controversy over the National Broadband Plan, said he knew it was a lonely place to be.

Independent TD Marian Harkin noted that politics could be “brutal”, while fellow Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said that what was in question was “trial by media”.

In profile: Dara Calleary

Dara Calleary’s promotion to the role of Minister for Agriculture has addressed one controversial issue of the new Government – the omission of a senior member of Cabinet from the west of Ireland.

Mr Calleary’s initial appointment as chief whip, rather than to a senior ministerial portfolio, shocked many, including himself.

He said publicly that he was “angry and disappointed” after what he described on MidWest Radio as “a private and incredibly painful” conversation at the time with Mr Martin.

That combined with significant public backlash resulted in responsibility for the Gaeltacht and sport being added to his portfolio.

But the Mayo TD has finally, if at the expense of a colleague, been rewarded for playing a key role in the Government formation talks and contributing to keeping all sides on board.

The Mayo TD has been in the Dáil since 2007, and was appointed chairman of Ógra Fianna Fáil by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the National Youth Conference in Co Offaly in February 2008.

The 47-year-old has Fianna Fáil in his DNA. He is the son of late TD and former minister of state Seán Calleary, who served in the Dáil from 1973 to 1992.

His grandfather Phelim was TD for Mayo from 1952 to 1969.

Affable and steady, and highly popular with party colleagues, Mr Calleary is viewed as a safe pair of hands.

His skill with people and diplomacy was used as justification for his appointment as chief whip, where an ability to cajole colleagues and ensure turnout for votes is crucial.

The chief whip has been called the gatekeeper of Cabinet. Mr Calleary said he would be that gatekeeper and also “a gatekeeper for the west”.

He pledged to be a voice for the west at the Cabinet table and one that “will not be a quiet voice”. His constituents and others will now have an expectation of benefits for the region.

He has had a previous taste of government when he served as minister of state for labour affairs and public service transformation from 2009 to 2011 in the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition.

A graduate of Trinity College with a degree in business and politics, his earlier education was at St Oliver Plunkett National School and St Muredach’s College.

He previously worked with Chambers Ireland and in an Irish bank.

He has served as his party’s spokesman on justice, equality and defence, as well as its spokesman on jobs, enterprise and innovation.