Simon Coveney understood to be most likely nominee for EU commissioner role

Government said to be increasingly likely to submit just one nominee despite request

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is thought to be the frontrunner to be nominated by the Government for the EU trade commissioner role. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is thought to be the frontrunner to be nominated by the Government for the EU trade commissioner role. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

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The Government has not yet decided if it will nominate two candidates for the post of EU commissioner despite a request from president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to put forward one man and one woman.

Senior Government sources believe it is increasingly likely the Government will nominate one candidate instead with the current Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney seen as the frontrunner.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness confirmed on Sunday that she would be interested in succeeding Phil Hogan as Ireland’s European Commissioner and suggested it would be “unwise” for the Government not to put forward both male and female candidates for the role.

A spokeswoman for the Government said that the three party leaders met on Friday to discuss the issue and would meet again on Monday, and there had also been contacts over the weekend.

“It is in everyone’s interest to fill the vacancy as soon as possible but there is a process in Brussels as well with president and parliament.”

‘Difficult patch’

Mr Hogan resigned from his position following controversy over his attendance at an Oireachtas golf society dinner and questions around his movements throughout Ireland before and afterwards in apparent breach of Covid-19 guidelines.

Speaking on Sunday, Ms McGuinness said she was interested in the role. “My name is in circulation and yes I’m interested in being the commissioner,” she said on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio 1.

“But, as we all know, the decision is a government’s decision. We’ve been through quite a difficult patch over the last couple of days. Our name in Europe is being spoken of in ways we would rather it wasn’t.

“The president of the commission was very clear that she wants nominations soon so that we can move on from the place we are in. There are a lot of other names there as well, but my name is among them.

“I think we need to listen very carefully to what the president of the commission Ursula von der Leyen has actually said. She wants the Government to act swiftly, and she wants two names. She wants a woman and a man.”

‘In the mix’

Ms McGuinness said nobody from Government circles had sounded her out about the position yet, but admitted she been in contact with one senior figure for advice on the matter.

“I think because of my position as first vice-president of the parliament that my name was in the mix early on,” she said. “I spoke to one person who is a good friend of mine for advice.”

In relation to Ireland’s chances of retaining the key trade portfolio, Ms McGuinness said there was too much emphasis on that aspect of the discussion in Ireland.

“This is about someone who is committed to Europe,” she said. “I think we have forgotten that here in Ireland. We have focused on Ireland’s interests as if they are exclusive and different from European.

“Whoever gets this position – man or woman – will be a European commissioner, clearly with an Irish background, but not batting only for Ireland.”

Ms McGuinness also said Ireland’s reputation had suffered in Europe as a result of the controversy, but not “in the sense that we cannot recover”.

“I think it’s very clear that when any member state is at the centre of a difficult crisis or controversy that lasts over a number of days it’s not good news for us and it’s an uncomfortable position,” she said.