Minister of State Peter Burke

Burke 'pleasantly surprised' with new role in Europe

Peter Burke says he was "pleasantly surprised" to be appointed European Affairs Minister in the government’s reshuffle of junior ministries.

The former minister of state with responsibility for Local Government and Planning replaces Fianna Fail’s Thomas Byrne, who has been appointed as Minister of State for Sport. There had been widespread speculation that Deputy Burke, an accountant by profession, was set to move to a junior ministry in the Department of Finance, but in one of the most surprising moves in the reshuffle, he was moved to what is arguably the most prestigious of the junior ministries.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Deputy Burke said he is looking forward to getting on top of his new portfolio in the coming weeks.

"I was pleasantly surprised. It is a prestigious post, a senior post in the junior ministerial ranks. It is an opportunity to work closely with the taoiseach, as well, because it is in the Department of the Taoiseach, and I will be travelling to European Council meetings with him.

"European Council meetings and leader meetings are where so many decisions are made that really impact on us back home. It such an important post in that regard, especially with the backdrop of Brexit. We have to try to work out the issues with the protocol and it is an exciting appointment in that regard too.

"There is so much going on in Europe, with the energy crisis, Brexit and inflationary issues. There are huge challenges for the European Union. I have a lot of work to do to get up to speed with the mechanics of the institution."

Year of highs and lows

On a personal level, the last 12 months have been difficult for Minister Burke and his family. In late May, his father Peter passed away. His father would have been the first person on the phone to congratulate him about his new appointment, he says.

"It’s been a difficult year for me personally and on days like this I wish Dad was around to see it. He would, I have no doubt, been thrilled to see me get a post like this. The year is ending on a high but there have been many low points as well."

Another low point occurred on November 16 when Deputy Burke, a father of two young boys, took ill while speaking in the Seanad.

He briefly lost the power of speech during the incident and while all the results of the subsequent tests came back clear, it has made him realise that he has to take better care of himself.

"It was the shock of my life when I couldn’t speak. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get the words out. When I was brought out into an ambulance at the front of Leinster House, the most public place you could be, I was worried that the story was going to break. I couldn’t ring my wife because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to communicate and didn’t want to worry her.

"I was absolutely relieved when I got the results of the scans because when I went into St James’s A&E, the first doctor that saw me said that more than likely I was after having a mini stroke. That really scared me.

"They are putting it down to a rare type of migraine. It was a long day. I was up early and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. It was one of those days that was meeting after meeting. I was in the Dáil and then in the Seanad. I had never had a migraine before and hopefully it was a one-off event.

"After Dad’s passing on, I was trying to look after things at home as well because my Mam is living on her own. There are so many components that form part of your day and you can sort of forget about yourself.

"In politics you are going from day to dusk. If you’re not on the phone, you’re in meetings or briefings. You have to pencil time into your day [for breaks]. I have to be very careful that I get to eat at the correct times."