Independent TD has 'an open mind' on ministerial post in talks with Leo Varadkar

Independent TD has 'an open mind' on ministerial post in talks with Leo Varadkar

An opposition Independent TD whose ongoing support is crucial to Leo Varadkar becoming taoiseach next week has said he has an "open mind" to potentially being offered a junior or full ministerial role in return for his help, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith of the Irish Examiner.

Unaligned Independent for Clare Dr Michael Harty made the comment despite joking Mr Varadkar may not have any "spare" positions available due to the fact he "campaigned very well" in the recent Fine Gael leadership campaign and as such must reward party colleagues.

Speaking to reporters alongside fellow unaligned Independents Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Communications Minister Denis Naughten before a Government meeting with Mr Varadkar this afternoon, Dr Harty hit out at the lack of progress by Government to date on health and rural issues.

The opposition TD's support is crucial to Mr Varadkar as he - alongside a small number of other opposition TDs - must give support to the incoming taoiseach if he is to officially replace Enda Kenny in power when the Dáil returns next Tuesday.

This is because Mr Kenny received 59 Dáil votes to become Taoiseach last year, one more than the 58 Fianna Fáil stipulated is required for it to back Fine Gael as part of the confidence and supply deal.

With fellow unaligned Independent opposition TD Michael Fitzmaurice already confirming he will not vote for Mr Varadkar, the support of Dr Harty will be key next week.

And while he is likely to ultimately back the incoming Taoiseach once again, speaking on his way into Government Buildings Dr Harty said he must be convinced to offer his support, giving rise to the ministerial or junior minister position suggestion.

"I'm going into the meeting with an open mind [on a position], but I think one has to be practical. Minister Varadkar has campaigned very well in the leadership of Fine Gael and he has promised a lot of Fine Gael members' positions.

"I'm not so sure he has a spare one [a spare position], but perhaps he will tell me this afternoon," Dr Harty joked.

Dr Harty, whose meeting with Mr Varadkar began shortly after 3pm this afternoon, was expected to raise serious concerns about the lack of progress on health and rural affairs issues during the discussion.

These include rural jobs, "balanced" regional development and investment, the protection of the post office network "which is unraveling before our eyes" and the creation of a health reforms implementation committee within three months to oversee the 10-year cross-party health plan.

During the same interview, unaligned Independents Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Communications Minister Denis Naughten also outlined what promises they want Mr Varadkar to act on.

Ms Zappone - who emphasised the ongoing difficulties of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa who remains in custody in Egypt - said she "will be raising the issue of the Eighth amendment in our discussions".

Similarly, Mr Naughten said he wants to see commitments implemented on agriculture, rural enterprise in provisional towns, health service reforms and other matters immediately.


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