Leo Varadkar clear to become Taoiseach

The path has been cleared for the new Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, to become Taoiseach.

The Independent Alliance has confirmed that it will support Mr Varadkar in the Dáil vote on Wednesday.

The five members of the Alliance — Shane Ross, John Halligan, Finian McGrath, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and Sean Canney — met Mr Varadkar yesterday.

Mr Varadkar told the Alliance that their positions are safe and will be unchanged when he announces his new Cabinet.

Members of the Alliance told the Irish Examiner they had a constructive meeting with Mr Varakdar at Government Buildings yesterday.

The Alliance and Mr Varadkar are said to have discussed a range of issues, including the need for government stability, Brexit, and rural affairs. They agreed to honour the commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government.

“It was also agreed that there would be more free votes in the Dail, in future, and priority will be given to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” a statement said. 

They have agreed to accelerate certain pieces of legislation, including the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2017, the Keeping People in Their Homes Bill, 2017, and the Criminal Justice (Commission of Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Mr Varadkar looks set to name a Brexit-focused Cabinet, and it seems certain that Paschal Donohoe will be named senior minister over the two finance departments, the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is anticipated he will be supported by two new junior ministers.

Mr Varadkar is said to be under pressure to announce his defeated leadership rival, Simon Coveney, as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Mr Coveney is said to be demanding a “plum” role and it is a strong possibility that he will be named Tánaiste on Wednesday.

However, Mr Varadkar was said to be less than pleased that Mr Coveney revealed their private talks.

Last Tuesday, Mr Coveney told Cork’s 96FM that he warned Mr Varadkar in their private meeting last weekend that “people who supported me shouldn’t in any way be damaged by that, in terms of their career”.

Mr Varadkar is also said to be considering a change of attorney general, with Máire Whelan, a Labour appointee, likely to make way.

There was surprise that she was reappointed by Mr Kenny a year ago, and she has been the subject of stern criticism, particularly in the wake of the Fennelly report.

Mr Varadkar looks set to scrap Michael Noonan’s €1bn per year rainy-day fund to free up spending on major infrastructure projects.

The fund was announced by the Minister for Finance in last year’s budget to help withstand any Brexit downturn.

It has been strongly supported by the International Monetary Fund and the Fiscal Advisory Council.

According to sources, Mr Varadkar believes it does not make sense to salt away €2.5bn in a rainy day fund when the money is urgently required for new infrastructure, such as public transport projects, schools, hospitals, and roads.

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