By Juno McEnroe and Niall Murray
Fine Gael leadership hopeful Leo Varadkar dismissed reports he refused to continue as health minister in the new government, as he launched proposals to speed up the recovery in rural Ireland.
His launch came as another minister hinted that he wanted an economic or finance portfolio in any cabinet reshuffle.
Fine Gael polling stations opened last night for the race to succeed Enda Kenny.
Mr Varadkar, the frontrunner, took issue with reports that he had turned down the chance to stay in health during a private conversation with Enda Kenny when the last cabinet was being formed.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to choose which department I’ve served in. That’s something that’s assigned to you by the Taoiseach,” he told Shannonside Northern Sound.
He said the suggestion he turned down continuing in the top job at Hawkins House was “not the whole truth”.
It had been reported Mr Kenny told colleagues privately that he had asked Mr Varadkar in May last year when deciding on his new cabinet to continue in health — but he refused.
Meanwhile, the social protection minister was in Mullingar yesterday where he outlined proposals to accelerate the economic recovery in rural areas.
Flanked by fellow ministers Heather Humphreys and Michael Ring, Mr Varadkar said: “The Irish economy is experiencing a strong recovery overall, but progress remains slow in many parts of rural Ireland.”
Measures proposed include prioritising agriculture and food industry concerns during Brexit negotiations; extending motorway networks in the West and in Donegal; implementing the national broadband plan, and increasing funds for tourism initiatives.
Mr Varadkar took issue with rival Simon Coveney’s ‘Ireland 2040’ plans to help rural communities, quipping that these had not even been published yet.
Elsewhere, Education Minister Richard Bruton hinted he would like a finance portfolio.
“Clearly, I have economic experience across a range of ministries and, indeed, in opposition. So I think I have skills that remain very relevant, and I would be open to serve in any way that a future Taoiseach would ask me to,” he said.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.