Opposition anger as Varadkar axes half of Cabinet subcommittees

Climate change and Irish language committees among those dropped by the Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has halved the number of Cabinet sub-committees from 10 to five. File photograph: Julien Warnand/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has halved the number of Cabinet sub-committees from 10 to five. File photograph: Julien Warnand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has halved the number of Cabinet subcommittees from 10 to five, in a dramatic reordering of Government that has prompted an angry response from the Opposition and campaign groups.

Some key subcommittees, including those on justice reform; the environment and climate action, and arts, Irish and the Gaeltacht, have been dropped as part of the reforms.

All of the dropped committees will now be absorbed into five larger subcommittees.

The Taoiseach had signalled his intention to reduce the number of subcommittees after taking up office last month. But the substantial reduction has taken other political parties by surprise.

The new generic subcommittees were agreed by the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday.

They are: economic issues; social policy and public services; Brexit; infrastructure, and health.

The dropped committees also included those on EU affairs and housing.

Outlining his thinking last month on the new arrangement, which will involve fixed committee membership and more regular meetings, Mr Varadkar said: “I think there were too many [committees], quite frankly. I am going to reconfigure them into a smaller number of Cabinet subcommittees, which, of course, I will chair.

“They need to be more focused. We will have a new 10-year plan on infrastructure, which we hope to be able to publish in October or November. I anticipate that there will be ambitious capital programmes for both health and education.”

The subcommittees make no Government decisions, but the Taoiseach and Ministers use them to progress policies, draft Bills and strategies to a point where they can be sent to Cabinet for consideration.

The change has provoked a cascade of criticism from the Opposition and campaign groups, who claimed that key sectors would lose out as a result of being absorbed into large, unwieldy committees.

Criticism

On Wednesday, Dara Calleary of Fianna Fáil said the Irish language would be lost in a welter of other issues as a result of the reforms.

“Despite all the PR things Varadkar has said on Gaeilge, the fact he is abolishing the [Irish language] committee shows that style is taking precedence over substance in this Government.

“On climate change he is embracing [efforts to tackle] it, he says, but it is now being demoted to B-grade in committee terms.

“He said there are too many committees, but he is the head of Government and it is up to him to order the business of government.”

Irish and the Gaeltacht will now come under the social policy and public services committee, which will also cover education, children, equality, social inclusion, justice, the arts, and public and civil service reform.

Julian de Spáinn, of Conradh na Gaeilge, said the Government’s own 20-year strategy for the Irish language specifically provided for a Cabinet committee devoted to Irish.

“They are stepping back from Irish at a critical time, when the number of daily native speakers has dropped by a shocking 10 per cent in the past five years,” he said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the dropping of the climate change committee made little difference, as the Government had paid little heed to climate change in its first year.

He said it made sense to include climate change as one of the responsibilities of the new infrastructure committee, but only if it was put at the centre of all plans.

“Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe have both said it is their priority. But they have to show that the commitment is real and not just bunting.”

While the health and housing committees had met five times each in the past year, some of the subcommittees, such as justice reform, EU affairs, infrastructure, environment and climate action, and arts, Irish and the Gaeltacht, only met twice over the same period.