‘Enormous’ task for new government

‘Enormous’ task for new government

The constituency of Cavan and Monaghan has retained a senior government Minister with the appointment of Deputy Heather Humphreys (FG) as Minister for Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands.

Minister Humphreys was appointed to the position on Saturday by party leader Leo Varadkar, the new Tánaiste who also takes over Deputy Humphreys’ old portfolio in Business, Enterprise & Employment.

Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Smith, meanwhile, was overlooked by his party leader for a senior ministerial post.

The new Taoiseach Micheál Martin did not see fit to give the Cavan TD a place at the cabinet table, despite being one of the most experienced and senior Fianna Fáil TDs in the Dáil.

A number of junior Ministerial positions are set to be confirmed today (Wednesday), with some sources saying one of the two Cavan Fianna Fail deputies may yet make the cut.

One party member, who did not wish to be named, said it was a disgrace that Deputy Smith, an experienced TD who previously held the Agriculture portfolio among others, had been left out. “Experience has been ignored in recent years and that’s part of the reason we, as a party, are not in a much stronger position,” they said.

The task facing the newly formed government has been described, meanwhile, as “enormous” by Deputy Brendan Smith as his party makes the historic decision to join Fine Gael and the Green Party to establish a new administration.

“There’s a huge programme of work ahead for any government. There are serious crises arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and that has to be the focus, supporting people through these challenging times,” Deputy Smith told theCelt. The former Minister says the priorities identified by the electorate before the previous election; housing, health and investment in rural Ireland are still on the agenda, however the Fianna Fáil deputy says there are other immediate issues to be dealt with: “It’s important businesses are supported to get people back to work, that people who remain out of work due to the pandemic are supported through these challenging times.”

When asked if he would like to serve in the extended cabinet, Deputy Smith was circumspect: “Everybody who is a member of the Dáil would like to hold ministerial office. I have been privileged to have served in office, but none of us know what will happen until the Taoiseach announces the Minister for State appointments. I’ve no knowledge of who will be appointed.”

He concluded by wishing all involved the best of luck: “I wish all members of the government every success in their Department because it’s important for the people that there’s delivery on the programme of Government. That government needs to deliver regardless of the personnel.”

‘Strong voice for rural Ireland’

Speaking to the Celt following her appointment, Minister Humphreys pledged to be a “strong voice for rural Ireland” at the cabinet table.

“The immediate focus of this government is getting people back to work, particularly those impacted by COVID-19,” she said.

“That is why we are developing the July Economic Stimulus Package to provide additional supports to businesses and focussing on those areas most severely impacted such as hospitality and tourism,” she said.

As Minister for Social Protection, Minister Humphreys said one of her immediate priorities will be assisting the thousands of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to get back to work.

“I want to see a huge focus on job activation measures, re-skilling and retraining workers. My focus will be to represent the most vulnerable in our society - our pensioners, our carers and people with disabilities,” she said.

“From an economic perspective, we need to ensure we have a balanced recovery and we can achieve that through the strong link between social protection and rural development, the other half of my ministerial brief.

“I want to build on the unprecedented investment in rural communities over the past number of years through programmes such as Town and Village Renewal Scheme, Outdoor Recreation, Clar, LEADER and others.

“I am acutely aware of the need for further regeneration measures in rural towns and villages and I will be a strong voice for rural Ireland at the cabinet table,” concluded Minister Humphreys.

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