DUBLIN (AFP) — Ireland’s government was on Thursday asked to propose candidates to replace EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan, who resigned after breaching coronavirus guidelines.
Hogan, one of the EU’s most senior officials and a powerful force in Brexit talks, quit on Wednesday after a week of increasing pressure about his recent trip home to Ireland.
On Thursday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis would take over his duties in the interim.
Von der Leyen also set in train the process of appointing Hogan’s successor, with a decision to be taken “at a later stage”, she said in a statement.
“It is now up to the Irish government to present suitable candidates for commissioner of Irish nationality,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“As in the past, I will invite the Irish government to propose a woman and a man.”
There is no guarantee Ireland will retain the trade portfolio, which is regarded as a key asset protecting the Republic’s interests during Brexit trade talks with Britain.
Former prime minister Leo Varadkar, foreign minister Simon Coveney and finance minister Paschal Donohoe, who recently became head of the eurozone group of finance ministers, were all touted in Irish media as potential replacements.
But all three hold key positions in a 2-months-old coalition government already crumbling as it grapples with rising coronavirus infections and a series of scandals.
European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness and former deputy prime minister turned MEP Frances Fitzgerald were both named by RTE as possible successors.
They were seen as figures who would not destabilize the coalition or prompt an unwelcome by-election.
Former prime minister Enda Kenny’s name was also “being floated in some quarters,” the state broadcaster reported.
It is thought the government may already have a plan to replace Hogan after he made a failed run for the head of the World Trade Organization in June.
The Irish government said Hogan, 60, breached three sets of Covid-19 guidelines while in the Republic and that his resignation was “the correct course of action.”
Prime Minister Micheal Martin, battling rising public anger at Hogan, and his coalition partners said “the government will consider his replacement in due course.”
Martin piled pressure on Hogan to quit after it emerged he traveled through a county in a local lockdown and flouted guidelines for a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Ireland.
Hogan also attended a parliamentary golf club dinner on August 19, in breach of coronavirus restrictions on social gatherings announced just 24 hours earlier.
The sporting evening was attended by around 80 people — including a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and lawmakers from Ireland’s upper and lower houses of parliament — breaching the new limit of 50.
It is now being investigated by police and has prompted a series of high-level resignations, including agriculture minister Dara Calleary and deputy Senate chair Jerry Buttimer.
© Agence France-Presse
by Joe STENSON