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Simon Harris Leah Farrell via

Live: Simon Harris officially declares bid to be next leader of Fine Gael

More than 30 TDs, senators and MEPs voiced their support for Harris today even before he made a formal announcement.


SIMON HARRIS HAS officially declared that he wants to be the next leader of Fine Gael, setting him on a path to be Ireland’s next Taoiseach after other potential contenders ruled themselves out.

The higher education minister appeared on RTÉ’s Six One News tonight to confirm his plans to run for the party’s leadership.

The nominations for next Fine Gael party leader opened at 10am. 

More than 30 TDs, senators and MEPs voiced their support for Harris today even before he made a formal announcement.

Meanwhile, Simon Coveney, Helen McEntee, Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys all ruled themselves out of the running.

Updates by Lauren Boland (now), Mairead Maguire, Órla Ryan, Eoghan Dalton and Diarmuid Pepper (earlier)

Neale Richmond 'appeal'

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Richmond said he has had conversations with Harris, who is “considering” entering the race following Leo Varadkar’s shock resignation yesterday.

He also remarked that Harris is “different” to Leo Varadkar and that “now is the opportunity to move forward” with a new leader.

“I very much hope he comes forward and I will be backing him,” Richmond added. 

While Richmond said he would welcome a leadership contest, he said his support will remain with Harris. 

Meanwhile, Richmond said he “wouldn’t take lectures on democracy from Sinn Féin who have never once had a leadership election”, after calls from the party for an early general election.

Other Simon Harris backers

Other Fine Gael figures backing Harris include MEPs Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh, as well as Senator Martin Conway.

How it all works

The nominations for next Fine Gael party leader open at 10am this morning.

Nominations close at 1pm on Monday and candidates must be nominated by at least six members of the parliamentary party – comprised of TDs, senators and MEPs – to be eligible.

The results will be officially announced on Friday, 5 April.

But will there be a contest?

Speaking on the way into the executive meeting, Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty said a leadership contest “would be healthy”.

However, no other figures have received public backing apart from Simon Harris.

Other senior Fine Gael politicians who could consider a tilt at the leadership include Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, Justice Minister Helen McEntee, and Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys.

The merits of a contest

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fine Gael TD and chair of the Parliamentary Party Alan Dillon said a contest for the leadership would allow for engagement with the Fine Gael membership.

However, he refused to express his “public preference” for any potential candidate, saying it would be “unfair” for him to do so as chair of the Parliamentary Party.

Dillion added that he is “confident” the coalition government can be re-elected and that Fine Gael could gain seats in the next election under a new leader.

Helen McEntee rules herself out

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said that she will not contest for the leadership of Fine Gael.

Speaking to LMFM radio, she said “it’s not the right time” for her to become a candidate. 

Harris support

Harris has already received the backing of more than ten members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party – only six backers are needed to secure a nomination. 

However, TDs Colm Burke and Peter Burke have both said there is a possibility they may submit nomination papers for two candidates.

More support for Harris

Over a dozen Fine Gael Parliamentary Party members have now signalled their support for Harris, Emer Higgins being the latest.

Helen McEntee 'never ruling anything out'

Speaking to LMFM, Helen McEntee said she decided a year or two that if a leadership contest would come up, she would not put herself forward for it.

“I ever rule anything out in the future, I am ambitious and that won’t change, but I won’t be putting myself forward.”

'No contest for the sake of it'

Colm Brophy has told Today with Claire Byrne that Simon Harris is the man for the job and that the “party should consolidate” behind the one candidate.

He added that he wouldn’t like to see a “contest just for the sake of it” and said there is too much going on for a contest, amid European Parliament and local elections in the summer. 

However, Richard Bruton notes that a Fine Gael leadership contest would be over in just over two weeks. 

'Would be good to have a contest'

Richard Bruton has told the Today with Claire Byrne programme that “it would be good for the party to have a contest”.

“I think a contest will bind the membership together,” he added.

He added that not everyone will make a declaration in public and that declarations “don’t tell you an outcome at this stage”.

fine-gael-td-richard-bruton-during-a-morning-canvass-of-commuters-at-mayor-square-in-dublins-city-centre-picture-date-wednesday-october-11-2023 Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Colm Brophy says Harris 'absolutely the right person'

Colm Brophy meanwhile has said he will be supporting Harris because “he is absolutely the right person to re-energise the party”. 

“My view is very clear, I look at someone and I make a judgement as to whether I believe they would be a good leader for our country and our party, and I think in Simon Harris we absolutely have that.”

1171 Pre-Budget_90581217 Fine Gael's Colm Brophy Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

MEP Seán Kelly becomes 18th person to back Harris

MEP Sean Kelly has become the 18th member of Fine Gael’s Parliamentary Party to support Simon Harris for the leadership position. 

“Simon has a proven track record,” said Kelly. 

The 18 include:

  • 3 MEPs: Frances Fitzgerald; Seán Kelly, and Maria Walsh
  • 7 TDs: Colm Burke; Peter Burke; Colm Brophy; Brendan Griffin; Emer Higgins; Frank Feighan; Neale Richmond.
  • 8 Senators: Garrett Ahern; Micheal Carrigy; Micheal Conway; Regina Doherty; Tim Lombard; John McGahon; Mary Seery-Kearney; and Barry Ward.

Harris makes it to 20 backers

Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell and Mayo senator Paddy Burke are the latest to back Simon Harris as next Fine Gael leader.

Fine Gael’s candidate in the next General Election in Dublin Bay South, Councillor James Geoghegan, has joined those declaring for Simon Harris.

“Harris served as my director of elections in the 2021 by-election in Dublin Bay South and I witnessed first-hand the connection he had with voters of all ages across the constituency,” Geoghegan said in a statement.

“I am delighted to pledge my support to Simon to lead our party.”

Minister of State for the OPW Patrick O’Donovan has joined the crowd and endorsed Harris.

That makes it 21 for the Wicklow TD.

Waterford-based Senator John Cummins has also backed Simon Harris for next Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

He told Deise Today on WLR that he does not believe that “we’ll have a contest” to head the party.

“I think Simon Harris is the likely next leader of Fine Gael. I think he would be an exceptionally strong leader of the party and the country,” Cummins said.

He was joined shortly after in supporting Harris by Waterford city councillor Frank Quinlan, who spoke by phone while on horseback to the local radio station. (Quinlan’s day job away from politics is at a stud farm)

For those wondering about Paschal Donohoe’s whereabouts, he’s wearing his Eurogroup president hat and heading to the European Council in Brussels later today.

As reported below, he’s not yet thrown any headwear into the ring for FG leader.

As things stand

Senator Sean Kyne, who’s also a former Galway West TD, is reportedly also backing Harris.

This makes it 23 in support of Harris – the only declared candidate – so far.

The 23 include:

  • 3 MEPs: Frances Fitzgerald; Seán Kelly, and Maria Walsh.
  • 9 TDs: Minister Patrick O’Donovan; Colm Burke; Peter Burke; Colm Brophy; Brendan Griffin; Emer Higgins; Frank Feighan; Alan Farrell; Neale Richmond.
  • 11 Senators: Garrett Ahern; Micheal Carrigy; Micheal Conway; Regina Doherty; Tim Lombard; John McGahon; Mary Seery-Kearney; John Cummins; Paddy Burke; Barry Ward and Sean Kyne.

Our political reporter Jane Matthews is in Brussels, where EU leaders are gathering for a summit.

Leo Varadkar spoke to reporters on the way in.

We’ll have more detail on his comments shortly, but according to Jane the soon-to-depart Fine Gael leader said he would not comment on the party’s leadership contest, that it was too early to assess his legacy (he said it would take three to five years) and that he did not tell Joe Biden about his plans to resign during his White House visit.

leo_480 Leo Varadkar in Brussels today.

Minister Helen McEntee has dismissed the suggestion that criticism of her handling of the Dublin riots in November and their aftermath influenced her decision not to stand for the Fine Gael leadership.

She said she made the decision a year or two ago not to stand if the position became vacant in the “immediate future”.

“That’s not to rule me out in the future, I’ve always said I’m ambitious, that hasn’t changed and that’s not going to change,” she told PA.

“But I believe now is not the right time for me.”

Our political editor Christina Finn has been speaking to Fine Gael politicians to gauge their thoughts on whether Paschal Donohoe may stand, or if this will all be over by teatime.

“Despite many saying they’d prefer a contest, a good few Fine Gaelers saying the lead is quickly running away and a contender would need to speak up soon,” she writes, adding that several party colleagues are saying that Donohoe has “always kept his cards close to his chest” regarding his leadership ambitions.

Senator Emer Currie, who previously stood in Dublin West as a running mate for Leo Varadkar, has also now declared for Simon Harris.

That makes it 24 backers for Harris.

Leo’s legacy

Our political reporter Jane Matthews has been speaking to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels about what he thinks his legacy will be when he has left the office.

In response, Varadkar said he doesn’t know and that he feels sorry for the people who have to write “that rubbish”.

He said that issues like full employment & a budget surplus might be more valued in hindsight.

You can view the video here:

The Journal / YouTube

McEntee endorses Harris

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has backed Simon Harris to be next Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

Speaking on Newstalk in the last few minutes, she is the first Cabinet minister to endorse a candidate.

McEntee added that she “wouldn’t rule anything out in the future” in terms of a leadership bid – but for now she’s supporting Harris.

That makes it 25 endorsements in his favour.

Paschal Donohoe ‘not putting name forward’ to lead FG

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has ruled himself out of standing to become next Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

“I have decided that I will not be putting my name forward to lead Fine Gael,” the Dublin Central TD said in a statement issued this afternoon.

“I have long said that my focus is on the two jobs that I am privileged to hold; that of Government Minister and as President of the Eurogroup. That remains to be the case. It is with a huge honour that I undertake my work on the domestic and international stage.

“It was a great surprise to learn of Leo’s intentions. I thank him for his great service to Ireland and for the opportunities that he has afforded me.

“I do believe that a wealth of talent and experience exists in Fine Gael and that exciting times lie ahead, both for the Party and ultimately for the country.”

Heather Humphreys has also bowed out of the race, and is backing Simon Harris.

Speaking today, the Minister for Rural and Community Development and Minister for Social Protection, said she gave running for the role “serious consideration” but it’s not right for her.

“I have a husband. I have two children, one of my daughters is getting married in two weeks’ time. I have two beautiful grandchildren and I have a very busy job with two ministries or two departments.”

A number of ministers are now backing Harris. Reiterating her support for him, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has tweeted that Harris “will bring huge energy to this important role”.

Minister of State Jennifer Carroll MacNeill is also backing Harris.

It’s essentially a one-horse race now.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Carroll MacNeill said it would be great to see a woman lead Fine Gael and the country – and that could have been teased out during a leadership contest – but, so close to the local and European elections in June, holding a contest may unnecessarily draw out the process.

“I think really, the most important thing is having clarity for the many, many people who are running in the local and European elections, to have clarity at this point in the government cycle as well.”

Carroll MacNeill said she spoke to Harris this morning and believes he is the right person for the job.

She said she shares “his vision for the country… in terms of equality of opportunity, the development of the State”.

Government Chief Whip and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton has confirmed she is also backing Simon Harris.

Some 28 parliamentary party members are now supporting Harris, well over the required six to get the nomination.

If, as now seems inevitable, Simon Harris becomes the new leader of Fine Gael, he would be Ireland’s youngest-ever Taoiseach.

Harris is 37; Leo Varadkar was 38 when he first became Taoiseach in 2017.

Close to 30

Paul Kehoe has become the latest Parliamentary Party figure to lend their support to Harris, bringing the number of endorsements to 29. 

Kehoe is one of ten Fine Gael TDs who have announced that they won’t be standing for re-election at the next general election.

The breakdown of Harris backers

Simon Harris, who has yet to announce his candidacy, already has the backing of a third of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

Here’s the breakdown below:

TDs: Colm Brophy; Colm Burke; Peter Burke; Jennifer Carroll MacNeill; Alan Farrell; Frank Feighan; Brendan Griffin; Emer Higgins; Heather Humphreys; Paul Kehoe; Helen McEntee; Hildegarde Naughton; Patrick O’Donovan; and Neale Richmond.

Senators: Garrett Ahearn; Paddy Burke; Micheal Carrigy; Martin Conway; John Cummins; Emer Currie; Regina Doherty; Sean Kyne; Tim Lombard; John McGahon; Mary Seery Kearney; and Barry Ward.

MEPs: Seán Kelly; Frances Fitzgerald; and Maria Walsh.


Not everyone is excited by the prospect of what’s looking like a one-horse race for Harris.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith described Harris’ likely coronation as “farcical”. 

Smith said: “Why is the election of a Taoiseach the sole preserve of Fine Gael and its privileged and conservative members? Surely the Irish people should have the ultimate say through a general election.”

She added that Harris had a “disastrous record” as Health Minister and noted he was the subject of votes of no confidence in the Dáil during his time in the post

Smith added: “People Before Profit has no confidence in Simon Harris. The People have no confidence in this Government. We need a general election now.”

Can he 'drive' the party forward?

Now more than 30 Parliamentary Party members have come out to bat for Simon Harris, including Hildegarde Naughton, who has used an image of her and Harris in a lorry for her endorsement post.

Backing from councillors

Speaking on RTÉ, Barry Saul, Chair of the Fine Gael Councillors Association, said there is ”very strong base of support” for Simon Harris.

Saul added that Harris has the support of more than 100 of Fine Gael’s nearly 250 councillors.

The Parliamentary Party account for 65% of the vote in the Electoral College system, councillors account for 10%, and party members the remaining 25%. 

Fine Gael’s Ciaran Cannon, who just two days ago announced he would not contest the next general election, has found an outlet to destress from the “toxicity” of political life.

As opposition parties continue to call for a general election, it’s not just Fine Gael who are making their case for staying the course.

In a post to X, Tánaiste Michéal Martin restated his commitment to deliver on “bread and butter issues”, and shot down people “endlessly speculating about elections”.

Simon Harris, who has been silent since Varadkar’s shock announcement, is to make an appearance on RTÉ’s Six One News this evening, our Political Editor Christina Finn can confirm.

The Higher Education Minister is all but confirmed as Fine Gael’s new leader, as well as the country’s next Taoiseach.

As Simon Harris prepares for his future as the likely new party leader, let’s look back at one of his earlier political ploys.

As part of his 2016 campaign, Harris created his own brand of wet wipes, which he claimed would “refresh” his constituency.

If chosen, he will be the first Taoiseach from Wicklow.

Capture Harris trying to clean up in the 2016 general election @electionlit @electionlit

If you haven’t been following the play-by-play of the Fine Gael leadership contest (which appears to only have one entrant), here’s the rundown.

  • Simon Harris has pretty much been solidified as the new leader of Fine Gael, although there has yet to be an official announcement.
  • The Higher Education Minister will make an appearance on RTÉ’s Six One this evening, where he is expected to confirm the news.
  • Other ministers who were suspected to contest the race have ruled themselves out, one after another.
  • So far, 34 TDs and other elected party members have backed Harris publicly.
  • If chosen as party leader, he will also become Taoiseach.
  • Meanwhile, opposition parties have used the brief period of instability to call for a general election, with Sinn Féin saying it should be the public who pick their new Taoiseach, not Fine Gael.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime, Patrick O’Donovan, the Minister of State for the OPW, said that Harris’s only weakness is that “he tries to do everything himself” and as Taoiseach he’ll have to learn to delegate.

When challenged on the continuously mounting cost of the National Children’s Hospital under Harris’s watch, O’Donovan deflected by bringing up the minister’s “leadership” during the pandemic.

MEP Maria Walsh is also supporting Harris, who she described as “energetic”.

She said he’s made higher education “more inclusive” since he’s been minister.

On the lack of women in the contest, she said “you never know what might happen” before nominations close at 1pm on Monday.

She added: “If we get into the next government – I have no doubt we will – the leaders, both men and women, that will sit around [Harris] will drive the country forward.”

Simon Harris’ announcement is expected imminently on RTÉ’s Six One News.

It will be the first declaration since the nominations opened at 10am this morning.

Simon Harris announces bid for Taoiseach

It’s official. Simon Harris has formally declared himself as a candidate to be the next leader of Fine Gael.

“I want to join you this evening to let you know: I’m in, I want to be the next leader of Fine Gael. I’m ready to step up and I’m ready to serve.”

That was how Simon Harris made his announcement in the last few minutes.

Beforehand, he paid tribute to Leo Varadkar, who Harris thanked for what he called the outgoing leader’s “incredible service” to the country.

With no other apparent candidates declaring themselves, and many members of the parliamentary party already rallying behind him, the path is effectively clear for Simon Harris to become the party’s next leader and the country’s next Taoiseach.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One news, Harris said he is “really overwhelmed and extremely grateful” for the support he has received from other party members.

Asked whether or not he would welcome another contender for the role, Harris said: “Whether there is a contest or not, I will be approaching this with energy and vigour.”

Here’s the press release the newly confirmed candidate has sent to media this evening:


The question on many minds – should a general election be called to put the leadership of the country to the polls?

Simon Harris doesn’t think so.

“Our constitution is very clear in relation to this. Governments have changed many times outside of the election cycle,” he said on RTÉ, outlining his position.

“There’s due to be a general election within the next year. There will be a general election within the next year. I am certainly committed, as I know my party is and I believe the other parties in Government are, to continue the work of Government and the Programme for Government.

“The Programme for Government isn’t negotiated between individual party leaders. It’s an agreement that exists between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens and I want to get on with the people’s business.”

“I hope during my time in politics that I’ve shown an ability to reach out across the political aisle to work with people on different issues with different political persuasions,” Harris said, addressing discussions raised earlier this week about toxicity in politics following Ciarán Cannon becoming the latest Fine Gael TD to announce he will not run again in the next election.

“I think we need to tone it down in politics, the rhetoric and the toxicity that exists. People on all sides, I think we need to focus on what we can get done and how politics can deliver for people. That’s the tone that I intend, should I be given the opportunity to serve, to bring to Irish politics.

“I do have a young family. I’ve been talking to my wife and engaging with my children. I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and I’m very grateful to have the support of my family, which means the world to me.”

Harris has also given an interview to Virgin Media News, in which he said again that politicians need to “dial down the toxicity that exists in Irish politics”.

“I think we need to focus on how we can deliver for the Irish people.”

“I’m in” appears to be Simon Harris’ chosen slogan – he used the phrase twice to RTÉ and twice to Virgin Media.

What next?

So, as the dust settles on an unexpectedly eventful 30 hours in politics, what happens now?

Nominations for the Fine Gael leadership remain open until Monday, so technically someone else could still put themselves forward, but that appears to be unlikely.

Even in the event of another candidate, the amount of parliamentary party members who have already vouched for Harris means it would take a major upset for the vote to swing away from him. It’s a highly unlikely scenario.

Fine Gael intends to select its next leader by its Ard Fheis on 6 April.

That would pave the way for Fine Gael to propose a Taoiseach to the Dáil after the Easter recess on 9 April.

Taoiseach-for-now Leo Varadkar is in Brussels for an EU Council meeting and is expected to speak to reporters in the morning. We’ll see what he has to say about his likely-successor’s announcement.

Until then, goodnight.

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