Party leaders to meet again today to nominate replacement for Phil Hogan
Government has not yet been decided whether to submit one or two names
MEP Mairead McGuinness: Sources in Brussels said Ms McGuinness is highly thought-of by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Discussions between the three party leaders in the Coalition Government about who should be nominated as Ireland’s European commissioner to replace Phil Hogan will resume on Tuesday morning, after discussions on Monday night ended without the selection of a nominee.
Government sources said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is keen on the nomination, but with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen seeking two names – a man and a woman – there are fears in Government that he could be disappointed.
It has not yet been decided whether to submit one or two names. Some Ministers believe that the request for two names is an infringement on national governments’ right to select their nominee, though others think that not complying with the request is a high-risk strategy which could result in a job of lesser importance for the eventual nominee.
However, sources acknowledge that the chances of retaining the trade portfolio are slim. There were discussions on the nomination on Monday between Dublin and the commission, it is understood.
Earlier, MEP and former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald entered the race to replace Mr Hogan, confirming on Monday morning that she was interested in the post, and acknowledging that it was a “difficult decision” for the Government. She has taken soundings in Dublin in recent days, it is understood.
Ms Fitzgerald’s confirmation of her interest brings to three the list of supposed Fine Gael candidates, with Mr Coveney and the MEP Mairead McGuinness.
Sources in Brussels said Ms McGuinness – a vice-president of the European Parliament and strong contender for the next presidency of the parliament – is highly thought-of by Ms von der Leyen.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin is also likely to nominate a new minister for agriculture this week to replace Dara Calleary, who resigned in the wake of the revelations about the Oireachtas golf dinner.
Party sources say Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue is the frontrunner to replace Mr Calleary. Mr McConalogue was agriculture spokesman in the last Dáil, and has served as a Junior Minister in the Department of Justice since July.
If appointed, Mr McConalogue will become the third agriculture minister to hold the office since the formation of the Government at the end of June. Prior to the resignation of Mr Calleary, Offaly TD Barry Cowen resigned after a controversy surrounding a drink-driving ban from 2016.
Elsewhere, the Cabinet will on Tuesday discuss a proposal to expand the free flu vaccine for the coming season, with the Government anxious to minimise the risks of a second wave of Covid-19 occurring at the same time as the flu surge.