Republic of Ireland news

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appoints Simon Coveney tánaiste

From left, President Michael D Higgins, newly appointed tánaiste Simon Coveney and taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Áras in Dublin, following the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald over her handling of a police whistleblower scandal PICTURE: Brian Lawless/PA

THE Republic's foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney has been appointed the country's new deputy premier following the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald over her handling of a police whistleblower scandal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the appointment of the new tánaiste in the Dáil on Thursday.

Mr Varadkar said in appointing Mr Coveney he was "very conscious of the important role he plays as minister of foreign affairs, as minister responsible for Brexit".

He said: "I believe his appointment as tánaiste and deputy prime minister will enhance his position in representing the government overseas in the negotiations currently under way."

The government was plunged into crisis when Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin threatened to bring down Ireland's minority government over Ms Fitzgerald's handling of the Garda whistleblowing scandal involving Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Hours before she faced a motion of no confidence on Tuesday Ms Fitzgerald resigned, saying she had put the national interest ahead of her political career by stepping down to avoid an "unwelcome and potentially destabilising" election.

Her resignation brought the country back from the brink of a snap election.

Fianna Fáil, which props up Mr Varadkar's government, wanted Ms Fitzgerald out over her involvement in the long-running police scandal, which revolves around her knowledge of an aggressive legal strategy against a police officer during a private inquiry in 2015.

The scandal relates to emails dating back to 2015, released by the Department of Justice, showing that Ms Fitzgerald was aware of a controversial legal strategy to target Sergeant McCabe at a private judge-led inquiry into claims of wrongdoing.

The contents contradict claims by Ms Fitzgerald – who was justice minister in 2015 – that she only learned of the approach being taken by lawyers in 2016.

As part of the taoiseach's reshuffle following Ms Fitzgerald's resignation, Heather Humphreys was nominated as the new minister for business.

This led to the promotion to Cabinet of Josepha Madigan to replace Ms Humphreys as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The motion to promote Ms Madigan was challenged, but the challenge was overruled by a vote.

Ms Madigan landed herself in hot water in 2014 when she released a newsletter which said that building Traveller accommodation on a number of sites in south Dublin would be "a waste of valuable resources" given the worth of the land.

She denied it was anti-Traveller and insisted the proposal to build in the locations selected did not make financial sense.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger criticised Mr Varadkar's decision to elevate Ms Madigan and accused her of "anti-Traveller bigotry".

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said she looked forward to Ms Madigan's proposals on minorities such as Travellers.

Micheál Martin congratulated Mr Coveney, Ms Madigan and Ms Humphreys.

"These appointments are necessary because of a resignation which no-one takes any joy from but which is absolutely required," he said.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin congratulated those who were appointed, but warned that a '"serious job of work" needed to be done.

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