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WikiLeaks: Barroso urged Brian Cowen to pick a woman for Irish EU job

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen chose Maire Geoghegan-Quinn as Ireland's EU commissioner ahead of two male candidates after Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged him to pick a woman, according to a leaked US embassy cable.

Mr Cowen had been considering nominating ex-European Parliament president Pat Cox or former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton to the post.

However, he opted instead for former Justice Minister Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, partly because she was female and a Fianna Fail member, according to a briefing given to US diplomats.

The cable also reveals how Mr Cowen did not believe Ireland would secure a senior commission portfolio because of a perception of EU disaffection with outgoing commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

In the October 2009 cable, the US deputy chief of mission in Dublin, Robert Faucher, said the reasons for the appointment of Ms Geoghegan-Quinn were explained to the embassy by John Callinan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach.

The cable, marked "confidential", described Mr Callinan as "a highly placed official". The word "protect" was used beside his name.

Details of the briefing were forwarded to the office of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to US diplomats in the EU. According to Mr Faucher, Mr Callinan briefed the embassy on the number of factors behind Ms Geoghegan-Quinn's nomination.

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"Callinan said Cowen had decided on Geoghegan-Quinn personally, and given that all the top contenders had roughly equivalent personal qualifications, two major factors dominated in his decision-making process," the cable stated.

These were "domestic political considerations and the desire for an important portfolio for the next Irish EU Commissioner". However, Mr Callinan also briefed that Ms Geoghegan-Quinn had another distinct advantage over her potential rivals for the nomination.

"Not only did she have the governmental and political background to command a decent portfolio, but she is also a woman and Barroso had pointedly called for member states to nominate women for the next commission," the cable said. The US officials were told that while her qualifications "did not necessarily stand out" from those of other possible candidates, "unlike Cox and Bruton, Geoghegan-Quinn is a Fianna Fail member and a woman". According to the cable, Mr Callinan said Mr Cowen did not want to pick a sitting Fianna TD for the position because the party could not afford to lose the subsequent by-election given the Government's slim majority of four at the time.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn "represented a good solution to this dilemma". Although she had left electoral politics in 1997 -- citing invasion of privacy following newspaper reports about her son being expelled from school -- she had current EU experience as a member of the European Court of Auditors since 2000, the cable noted.

According to the dispatch, Mr Callinan told US officials Ireland "was shooting for an economic portfolio of mid-level importance" and wanted to avoid a low-importance portfolio such as "anything to do with linguistics".

Agriculture was also not the top choice, although it would have been taken if offered.

Ultimately, Mr Barroso would appoint Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to the mid-level position of Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

According to Mr Callinan's briefing, Mr Cowen had not believed Ireland would get a high-importance portfolio for three reasons.

Firstly, Mr McCreevy had held the high-level post of internal markets commissioner for the previous five years.

Secondly, Mr McCreevy, rightly or wrongly, was not well thought of in certain quarters in Brussels.

Thirdly, the "trauma" of the Lisbon Treaty referendums "had weakened Ireland's hand in Brussels".

US officials quizzed Mr Callinan on Ms Geoghegan-Quinn's time on the board of the Ganley Group -- a company run by anti-Lisbon campaigner Declan Ganley -- in the late 1990s.

The cable states Mr Callinan replied that at the time Mr Ganley was considered one of the "most successful and forward looking entrepreneurs in Ireland" and his views on the EU only became known in recent years.

Click here to visit our WikiLeaks section and read more

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