European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen has today announced Mairéad McGuiness as her choice for the Irish seat on the Commission vacated by Phil Hogan two weeks ago. Hogan resigned as trade commissioner on August 26th, a week after the disastrous Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden. His departure sparked debate on possible replacements from John Bruton and Simon Coveney to Bertie Ahern. However European stalwart McGuiness has emerged as the foremost candidate.
Born in Drogheda in 1959, to a strong Fine Gael family, McGuiness grew up in Ardee, Co. Louth. McGuiness went on to become the first female graduate of UCD’s agricultural economics BSc in 1980 where she served as an energetic and creative records secretary for the Agricultural Society. Four years later she completed a diploma in finance and began pursuing a career in journalism.McGuiness showed an aptitude for journalism, reporting in the Farmers Journal and then editing the Farming Independent. She is also credited with pioneering the success of Ear to the Ground on RTÉ 1 which she presented.
McGuiness entered the political world in 2004 when she ran as a Fine Gael candidate in the Ireland-East constituency (as it then was) in a highly successful European election for the party. Both McGuiness and her running mate, Avril Doyle secured seats in the European Parliament. She has distinguished herself in Europe since, serving on numerous committees and delegations, from Agricultural to Finance.
Despite her success in Europe, ventures into domestic politics have not been as kind to McGuiness. She failed in her 2007 General Election bid, the Sinn Féin stronghold of Louth proving a tough nut to crack and in 2011 McGuiness lost her bid for the Fine Gael nomination for the presidential election to Gay Mitchell.
McGuiness is seen as eminently qualified for one of the highest seats in Europe. Not only is she Ireland’s most experienced MEP, having represented the Midlands-North West constituency since 2004, she is also the vice president of the European People’s Party, the largest party in the European Parliament. The EPP is an affiliation of “Christian-democratic” parties from across Europe and includes Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany, the Republicans in France and Fine Gael. She has also sat as vice-president of the Parliament since July 2014 which saw her have a memorable interaction with MEP Nigel Farage during his departure from the Parliament. She has chaired and attended numerous intergroups for causes such as children’s rights, animal welfare and the prevention cardiovascular disease. She is also a patron of a language learning group. Her popularity and high regard was evidenced in her narrow defeat in a bid for President of the EP and her comfortable win of the first seat in the Midlands-North West in 2019.
On September 4th Dublin offered its two candidates for the replacement of Hogan to van der Leyen, a man and a woman per her request. While former European Investment Bank chief Andrew McDowell argued his experience in helping the EIB become a green investment bank could help the EU towards its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and van der Leyen acknowledged both candidate’s “experience”, McGuiness’s clout in Europe won through.
Hogan’s trade portfolio will now be assumed by former Latvian PM and experienced commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis while McGuiness will take Dombrovskis’ previous ‘Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union’ portfolio. Finance reform is seen as a strong role for Ireland to have retained amidst fears of van der Leyen’s displeasure and an area McGuiness should feel comfortable in. McGuiness must now go before EP scrutiny and the new Commission must be voted on. All rigmarole McGuiness will be no doubt intimately familiar with, before she can assume her new position no doubt the zenith of an already prestigious career in Europe.