European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that Mairead McGuinness is to be Ireland's new European Commissioner following a competition with Andrew McDowell.

She will take over the Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union portfolio if she is approved by the European Parliament.

President Michael D Higgins congratulated Ms McGuinness and described her portfolio-designate as "an important and exciting one, to which she will bring distinguished experience as a member and Vice-President of the European Parliament.

"I wish her well. Go n-éirí léi."

In making the announcement to propose Ms McGuinness, Ms von der Leyen said: "She has great qualifications and my full trust for this post."

She said Ms McGuinness has "significant political experience on EU issues having been an MEP since 2004 and currently holding the post of first vice president of the European Parliament.

"This experience is crucial in carrying forward the EU's financial sector policy agenda and ensuring it supports and strengthens the Commission's key priority, notably the twin Green and Digital transitions." 

Ms McGuinness will now be subject to a hearing by the European Parliament's ECON Committee, which covers financial services.

Her position will have to be confirmed by the parliament as a whole and the European Council, which is comprised of 27 EU leaders.

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There has been some surprise that Ms McGuinness was given the financial services portfolio. 

It has not been her area of expertise as an MEP and it was believed a wider reshuffle might have seen the Finnish Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen take that post.

Some have suggested that by awarding Ms McGuinness the post it ends the narrative that Ireland would somehow be punished because of the Phil Hogan affair.

Financial services is a powerful portfolio and is highly relevant to the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The EU will have to decide what access the City of London will have to the single market in financial services.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had "no doubt whatsoever that [Ms McGuinness] will serve with distinction and will play a key role in the work of the Commission".

Former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis has been given the Trade portfolio, left vacant following the resignation of Phil Hogan.

Mr Hogan stepped down following controversy over his movements while in Ireland and his attendance at an Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden on 19 August.

Mr Dombrovskis has been overseeing trade since Mr Hogan left.

He will now formally take over at a time the bloc is locked in difficult Brexit negotiations with Britain, faces trade tension with China and the US, as well as seeking to unite around a new leader for the World Trade Organization.


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Mairead McGuinness's road to the Commissioner's office


Ms von der Leyen had invited the Irish Government to present suitable candidates for a replacement commissioner, requesting the nomination of "a woman and a man".

The Government put forward Ms McGuinness and Mr McDowell for the role.

Ms McGuinness represents the North West constituency of Ireland in the European Parliament.

Her MEP seat is set to be taken by Fine Gael's Louth Cllr Colm Markey.

Prior to becoming an MEP, she was a well-known journalist, broadcaster and commentator and hosted Ear to the Ground on RTÉ.

She was elected first vice-president of the European Parliament in January 2017 and was re-elected to the post in July 2019.

Mr McDowell is a former chief economic advisor to the government from 2011 to 2016, working closely with then taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Until recently, he had been vice president of the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg.

Ms von der Leyen described both Ms McGuinness and Mr McDowell as "excellent" candidates, and that they had both shown "great commitment to the functioning of the European Union and the function of commissioner."

Among the first to congratulate Ms McGuinness was Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who had been linked with the post.

In a tweet, he said: "Congratulations to Mairead McGuinness on becoming the new EU Commissioner … she'll do a great job."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described it as an "excellent appointment for Ireland in an excellent portfolio".

He added: "Thanks to Andrew McDowell for putting his name forward, another great candidate. Ireland is fortunate to have people of this calibre representing us at European level."

Fine Gael MEPs Seán Kelly, Deirdre Clune, Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh also congratulated their colleague, describing her as someone "widely recognised for her dedication, integrity and excellence as an MEP, representing Ireland across various important policy areas".

Additional reporting Tony Connelly