Varadkar says he plans to appoint ministers he can ‘trust’
New Fine Gael leader declines to comment on rival’s request not to penalise opponents
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has declined to comment on a request from Simon Coveney not to penalise opponents when he picks his cabinet. Photograph: Alan Betson
Mr Varadkar said he would select only those ministers who he can trust when making appointments if, as expected, he is elected to succeed Enda Kenny as taoiseach next week.
Mr Varadkar said he had a meeting with Mr Coveney, who he beat to the leadership, on Saturday and that both men had agreed to keep its contents “entirely confidential”, and he would respect that agreement, implicitly rebuking Mr Coveney.
Mr Coveney told local radio in Cork that he had warned Mr Varadkar against penalising his supporters and, in particular, against dropping Minister for Health Simon Harris, one of his key supporters, from the cabinet.
Mr Varadkar said “the cabinet will be appointed by me on the basis of what’s best for the country” but that he had not made any decisions yet.
He would take “a degree of regional balance and gender balance” into account when selecting ministers, he said, but the “core issue” was “trust”.
“Anyone who runs a cabinet, and anyone who heads up a government, who heads up a football team, needs to know that everyone on that team is going to be fully behind your programme,” he said.
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His comments are likely to be interpreted as a warning that he may not reappoint Mr Harris.
Mr Varadkar said his meetings with the Independents and Fianna Fáil were “largely focused on legislation we need to prioritise and on commitments in the programme for government that need to be brought forward”.
He also said they had discussed ways to make Dáil business more efficient.
Mr Varadkar said he “had to get back to Fianna Fáil and the Independents on specific issues” but that the talks had gone smoothly. He is scheduled to meet the Independent Alliance again on Sunday.
He said he had agreed with the Independent Alliance that the Government would look at the possibility of free votes on specific issues “on a case-by-case basis”.
He said there “could potentially” be a free vote on new drink driving legislation.
Mr Varadkar said the meeting with Fianna Fáil had been productive and expected that it would be possible to have a good relationship with Micheál Martin.
“We’re not going to be best friends, and we’re certainly not going to be in coalition, but we are going to have a good working relationship.”
Of his previous criticisms of Fianna Fáil, Mr Varadkar said he was starting a new role, and this was “an opportunity to start afresh”.
Mr Varadkar said he had not had any discussions with Independent TD Michael Lowry “as yet”.
“But obviously in the past he has supported the Government but there’s been no discussions with him at this stage . . . To the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been an agreement. What I’ve said to all Independents is that any understanding that existed prior to now with the outgoing Toaiseach, that I’m happy to honour those. But there’s no formal agreement in place.”
Asked would he honour any arrangement with Mr Lowry, who had previously indicated he had an understanding with Mr Kenny, Mr Varadkar said: “That depends on what it was.”