Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended his decision not to appoint Dara Calleary as a full Cabinet minister.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin insisted his deputy leader and Government Chief Whip Dara Calleary will have a central role in the government.
When news of Mr Calleary’s failure to make the full cabinet, Fianna Fáil TDs reacted with “shock and anger” on Saturday.
Responding for the first time to the criticism he did not award Mr Calleary a full ministry, Mr Martin said: " Dara is very experienced and I need a very experienced chief whip. He will have additional responsibilities and former chief whips like Seamus Brennan and Mary Hanafin who went on to have stellar careers.”
“But the challenge facing the three leaders was there was a limited number of portfolios and in the ones we got I wanted people who could hit the ground running," a reference to Stephen Donnelly who was a surprise choice as Health Minister and Darragh O'Brien in Housing.
“It is very difficult, it was a very challenging position. There were many in the party who could have a claim to be in the top six. Dara will be sitting at the Cabinet and I do need someone of the calibre to pull it all together and work with other parties,” he said.
“Others will be disappointed, no doubt about it. Others equally would have loved to have a conversation. I have been through these situations before, perhaps not as Taoiseach but it is very challenging,” the Taoiseach said.
“It was very difficult for me and the other leaders to accommodate everyone. Fine Gael saw several ministers lose their place at Cabinet which must have been very difficult personally. So each leader had limited scope to appoint the appropriate person to the appropriate portfolio,” Mr Martin told the Irish Examiner.
He paid a glowing tribute to his deputy leader saying: “But to me the Chief Whip is an extraordinarily important position at Cabinet and I have seen that from experience how an experience and effective whip can make the difference. I rate Dara very highly.”
Attempts to contact Mr Calleary were unsuccessful.
In relation to the criticism from the opposition about the perceived geographical imbalance in the Cabinet, the Taoiseach said the make up was driven by the fact there are three parties in government.
“We take people’s concerns. It is the nature of the partnership government. We did look at geography but each leader looked at their own internal party situation,” he said.
“We had housing, health, education, agriculture and public expenditure and the Taoiseach’s role, so we had to look at that,” he said.
“But Dara Calleary from Mayo and Hildegarde Naughten who is from Galway will be at the Cabinet table and will be strong advocates for the west, I have no doubt about that,” the Taoiseach said.
“They will have portfolios which will be of huge benefit to the regions also,” the Taoiseach said.
Mr Martin said it was a “lovely surprise” to arrive home to a guard of honour from his neighbours, friends and family at his home in Ballinlough, Cork on Sunday.
The new Taoiseach was greeted by supporters who sang a verse of "The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee." His children Micheal Aodh, Aoibhe and Cilian lined the kerb outside his home alongside his wife Mary.
“It was lovely. I thought I was just going home to see Mary and the gang but the neighbours very kindly went to a great effort. But there were many people there who have been with us for years so it was a very poignant occasion,” he said.
But Mr Martin did not have long to enjoy the festivities, as he returned to Dublin late last night.
His Cabinet will meet for the first time properly today at Dublin Castle at 2pm.
He will be briefed by his ministers as to the latest response to the Covid-19 pandemic and will get a detailed briefing from his EU division officials as to the latest position on Brexit.
Mr Martin will also meet with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan later in the day to get an update on the proposed lifting of restrictions on foreign travel.