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Red-hot favourite awaits nod to fill big Phil's shoes

McGuinness faces interview as Fitzgerald backers fume at Leo

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Mairead McGuinness is expected to fill Phil Hogan’s
shoes

Mairead McGuinness is expected to fill Phil Hogan’s shoes

Mairead McGuinness is expected to fill Phil Hogan’s shoes

Mairead McGuinness is red-hot favourite to fill the post vacated by Phil Hogan ahead of interviews to be held in Brussels today by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms Von der Leyen will also run the rule over Andrew McDowell, who has plenty of experience as a former Fine Gael chief strategist and vice president of the European Investment Bank.

However, Ms McGuinness remains favourite amid reports that the European Commission President made it quite clear to Irish officials that she expected her to be nominated.

Complaints

Meanwhile, sitting MEP Frances Fitzgerald is refusing to comment on complaints by some Fine Gael backbenchers that she has now been "let down twice" by Leo Varadkar.

Ms Fitzgerald, who was forced out of office as Tánaiste and justice minister under Fine Gael in the last Government, is staying above the fray.

When she was ousted, Mr Varadkar predicted she would be vindicated and also vowed that it would not be long before she was restored to high office.

One backbencher claimed there was disappointment also among colleagues that a promise to restore her to high office had not been met. It would have been a popular move within the party, he said.

Another said Ms Fitzgerald had now been "let down twice" by Leo, but added: "That's politics. And politics is tough."

The former minister confined herself to a statement congratulating the others whose names have gone forward.

"This is a critical and important time for Ireland and the EU, given the imminent challenges of Brexit and Covid-19," Ms Fitzgerald said.

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Phil Hogan

Phil Hogan

Phil Hogan

If as expected, Ms McGuinness succeeds Máire Geoghegan Quinn to become only Ireland's second female commissioner, it will also catapult an obscure councillor into Brussels.

Louth farmer Colm Markey will walk into an MEP job as her replacement, as he is the ranking substitute named in her original election papers.

The Ardee farmer would then be in receipt of an annual salary of €107,194.

He will also get paid a monthly allowance of €4,563 in 'general expenditure' for representation at home (€54,756 annually), full travel expenses, generous mileage and a flat-rate €323 a day in subsistence for European Parliament sittings, once he signs in.

Mr Markey runs the family farm in Togher, Co Louth.

He was first elected to Louth County Council in 2009 and is a former national president of Macra Na Feirme.

Premature

"I am first on the list, and I would certainly be prepared to pick up the responsibility in place of Mairead, but I don't want to be premature about it," he told the Herald.

"I won't comment further if you don't mind, because nothing is decided or guaranteed."

In a tweet on Friday, Mr Markey said he was "delighted" that Ms McGuinness was one of the two nominees put forward by the Government, adding: "I've always believed she would make an exceptional commissioner."

Although Simon Coveney was early favourite for the position, it's thought the unlikelihood of Ireland retaining the trade portfolio made it a less attractive prospect for him.