Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed the Government will ask the EU to re-appoint ex-Fine Gael minister Phil Hogan as an EU commissioner - despite the backlash over the Mercosur deal.
Mr Varadkar announced the decision after the weekly cabinet meeting this afternoon, amid speculation Mr Hogan could remain in the agriculture portfolio or be moved to trade to help combat any Brexit fallout.
Last week, the EU agreed to sign up to the Mercosur trade deal with four Latin American nations, including Argentina and Brazil. While the deal will allow for better trade arrangements between both political blocs, it will also result in Argentinian and Brazilian beef flooding into EU markets.
The Irish Farmers Association has predicted it could cost Irish farmers up to €750m, while Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has vowed to "dismantle" the deal.
Fine Gael's Oireachtas agriculture committee chair Pat Deering has also suggested the Government should consider not proposing the re-appointment of Mr Hogan as an EU commissioner for a second five-year term.
However, in a statement this afternoon, Mr Varadkar confirmed that despite the concerns, the Government has agreed to propose Mr Hogan's re-appointment, saying:
"we need our best people in Europe".
“Over the past five years, Commissioner Hogan has done an excellent job as EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development. He has highlighted the interests and concerns of the agricultural sector across Europe.
“Phil is widely respected in Brussels and across the EU as a skilled negotiator and someone who builds alliances. He has also been a very important voice on Brexit, ensuring that his colleagues in the commission have a keen understanding of the potential negative impact that the UK’s exit will have on Ireland and other member states.
“In recent months, he has secured an aid package for Irish beef farmers, in recognition of the significant challenges facing the sector as a result of ongoing market turbulence related to Brexit.
“His re-nomination is an endorsement of his work to date, and an indication of the importance we place on our engagement with EU institutions. We need our best people in Europe. The Government will now work closely with our colleagues in the EU to support him in securing the best possible portfolio in the new commission," Mr Varadkar said.
Under EU rules, the proposal to re-appointment Mr Hogan only relates to a commissioner role, with Brussels deciding on whether he retains the agriculture position or is moved to another area.
It has been speculated the Government would like to see Mr Hogan in a trade position, in part because of his tough negotiation skills and the imminent Brexit crisis.
Responding to the Government's announcement, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said the decision is a "victory for cronyism over competence".
“Phil Hogan’s periods as a Government minister were marked by failure, most notably in his handling of water charges and the establishment of Irish Water. Likewise, during his period as European commissioner, he has failed to address the inequalities in European agriculture or to stand up for Irish farmers when required."
Mr Carthy said Mr Hogan's recent defence of "the disastrous trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc shows that he was always more concerned about placating EU power-brokers than protecting agriculture interests or the economies of countries such as Ireland".
“This was just the latest of a long line of disappointments in his period as commissioner including his failure to address unfair trading practices effectively and his support for an EU budget that proposes a 15% cut in CAP while funnelling billions into the European arms industry.
“Phil Hogan’s big political achievements amount to being a wily operator within Fine Gael and playing big roles for the winning candidates during party leadership contests. These are the factors that cabinet has rewarded by this appointment. This is clearly a victory for cronyism over competence. This is a missed opportunity," he added.