'social crisis' | 

Stephen Donnelly and Darragh O’Brien survive reshuffle while Simon Coveney on the move

No minister has been dropped from Cabinet with only a handful moving portfolios

Leo Varadkar© PA

Leo Varadkar© PA

Leo Varadkar's partner Matt Barrett watches newly elected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar receive his seal of office from President Michael D. Higgins. (Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)© PA

Hugh O'Connell and Philip RyanIndependent.ie

New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government will do “whatever it takes” to solve the housing crisis and pledged a renewed focus on child poverty as he announced minimal changes to the Cabinet.

No minister has been dropped from Cabinet with only a handful moving portfolios with the most notable change seeing new Tánaiste Micheál Martin taking the Foreign Affairs and Defence portfolios and Simon Coveney switching to Enterprise.

Speaking to the Dáil on Saturday evening following his appointment by the President, Mr Varadkar said there are a number of “pressing challenges” that will define his administration for the next two years, including housing.

He said the Government will do "whatever it takes to solve this social crisis" and apply "the same spirit of determination, action and immediacy" as during the pandemic.

He said the Government must also tackle inflation and bring the cost of living under control and pledged to ensure “the best start in life for every child” as he announced a new unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to improve access to services.

He said the Government's “moonshot for the 21st century" is to "become energy independent”, while the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is to be changed to the Department of Public Expenditure National Development Plan Delivery and Reform because, Mr Varadkar said, "far too many important public capital projects are taking far too long" and a step-change is needed.

As had been already agreed previously, Mr Varadkar confirmed that Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath has swapped roles with Paschal Donohoe to become Finance Minister. Donohoe will be known as the Minister for Public Expenditure National Development Plan Delivery.

There were minor changes in Fine Gael which will see the party’s deputy leader Simon Coveney become Enterprise Minister, while Simon Harris will oversee the Department of Justice, along with his own Department of Higher Education until Helen McEntee returns to office in six months after taking maternity leave.

Social Protection and Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys retains her portfolios but had the Justice brief taken from her.

Paschal Donohoe will become Public Expenditure Minister while Hildegarde Naughton was appointed as Chief Whip. Mr Varadkar also appointed barrister Rossa Fanning as attorney general.

On the Fianna Fáil side, aside from Mr Martin moving to Iveagh House, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, Education Minister Norma Foley and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue all retained their positions.

Jack Chambers vacated the Chief Whip’s office to become a Super Junior Minister in the Department of Transport.

Eamon Ryan also retained his Cabinet team of Arts Minister Catherine Martin, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Super Junior Minister in the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett.

Speaking in response to the appointment of a new Government, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil it was another administration "that fits neatly into the pattern for 100 years a tired government that appoints again and again to excuses and alibis".

Earlier today in his first speech since returning to office, Mr Varadkar paid tribute to his family, friends and staff.

“Thank you for your work, the love and support you have shown me. When we enter public life, we choose this path. Our loved ones do not,” he said.

Leo Varadkar's partner Matt Barrett watches newly elected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar receive his seal of office from President Michael D. Higgins. (Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)© PA

“I want you to know that my work as Taoiseach is driven by your example. I intend to honour your confidence in me,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said the focus of his first election as Taoiseach centred on what it “represented and symbolised”.

“That was understandable at the time, but today I think we should focus on where we are as a country and what needs to be done to prepare for the next century of statehood,” he said.

“Our history over the last 100 years has been about winning the additional freedoms that were denied to us or which we were unable to imagine.

“Becoming a republic. Becoming a place where you are not limited by your gender, religion, race, background or sexual orientation. Becoming a country where you are free to be yourself,” he added.

Leo Varadkar© PA

Mr Varadkar said the Government have challenges which they must fix now or risk the “betraying current generation and the generations who come after us”.

“I am thinking of housing and how we have to go all out to turn the corner on homelessness and homeownership. We need to accelerate our plan, Housing for All. It’s about making home ownership a reality for the many again,” he said.

“I am thinking of how we need to tame inflation and bring the cost of living under control, especially when it comes to the cost of energy, childcare, education, rent and healthcare,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said he also wanted to address child poverty as “too many children are missing out on everyday opportunities”.

“Ireland has never been a failed State, and it is grotesque and dishonest to claim that we are or we were. But we are failing some of our citizens, and it is essential to our success as a country that we put this right,” he said.

“In eight days’ time most homes around the country will celebrate Christmas with presents and good cheer. Most, but not all. For some families – for some children - Christmas is a time of fear and uncertainty. A time of unhappiness,” he added.

Outgoing Taoiseach Micheál Martin received a standing ovation from almost the entire Dáil as he stepped down from his position.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin pictured leaving Government Buildings before travelling to Áras an Uachtarain to tender his resignation to President Michael D.Higgins.

Sinn Féin members joined Government TDs in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party in applauding Mr Martin as he announced his resignation.

Only members of the the far-left People Before Profit remained in their seats after the Fianna Fáil leader delivered his final Dáil speech as Taoiseach.

In his closing statement, Mr Martin said Government “only works if people trust each other and respect each other’s mandates”.

“As Taoiseach, I have tried to treat all office holders fairly and been available to consult and help whenever needed,” he said.

Mr Martin paid tribute to his own family, especially his wife Mary and also his political staff who worked with him throughout his time in office.

Mr Martin thanked his wife Mary and children Micheál Aodh and Ruairí for their support, “encouragement and occasional criticism, particularly my wife Mary who has tried to keep me on time during my life”,

He made special mention of the work carried out by those working in the public service.

The soon to be appointed Tánaiste said the Covid Pandemic showed the “true spirit” of Irish public service.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin with his wife Mary Martin pictured leaving Government Buildings before travelling to Áras an Uachtarain to tender his resignation to President Michael D.Higgins.

“We did not, nor could we, get everything right in responding to the pandemic – but the facts show that Ireland was able to limit the terrible impact of the virus well below that seen in most comparable countries,” he said.

Mr Martin said it a “privilege and a responsibility” to serve as head of government in a “free and democratic republic”.

I have been deeply conscious of this every day I have held the office of Taoiseach,” he said.

“I have sought always to work on behalf of all the Irish people and not just those who support my party and our colleagues in government,” he added

Mr Martin also paid tribute to Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. He also praised Paul Gallagher who he said was “one of the great attorney generals”.

Leo Varadkar© PA

He said Ireland was a pro EU country that will always stand up the “extreme right and left”.

In reference to his Shared Island Unit, he said people “must stop making assumptions about each other and get to know each other”.

“If there is one thing we should all be able to acknowledge, it is that if we genuinely believe in an Ireland which includes and serves all, then we must be prepared to build new bridges. We must be prepared to reach across divides and to do the hard work of learning to understand and respect each other far more than we have in the past,” he added.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the reunification of the island of Ireland presents a “big opportunities” for the country but insisted it would not happen with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in Government.

“With a change in leadership and change in Government we will get there,” Ms McDonald said. She said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are “essentially the one party now”.

She said the parties along with the Greens worked under “might and mane to keep change out” of Government.

“You can’t prevent the new dawn breaking, the light of a better tomorrow burns brightly…you can make the people wait a little longer but you cannot and will not stop that change,” she said.


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