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Simon Harris confirmed his intention to be the next leader of Fine Gael this evening. Alamy
Fine Gael

'I'm in' - Simon Harris confirms his intention to become leader of Fine Gael

Some 30 parliamentary party members have backed Harris throughout the day.


SIMON HARRIS HAS confirmed his intention to serve as the leader of Fine Gael this evening, with the path clear for him to become the next Taoiseach.

Some 30 parliamentary party members backed Harris throughout the day, before he made his announcement on the RTÉ Six One news this evening.

Asked if he will be declaring a bid, Harris said:

“I’m in. I’m ready to be next leader of Fine Gael. I’m ready to step up and ready to serve.”

The Minister for Higher Education told the programme that he was “extremely overwhelmed” by the level of support he had received throughout the day, adding that he was extremely grateful for the support he has received from his party colleagues.

“I want to thank everybody for their support and their trust – it means so much to me. I will work all day, day and night, I will give this my absolute all to repay that trust.”

Despite Fine Gaelers saying they would have preferred a leadership contest, Simon Coveney, Helen McEntee, Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys have all ruled themselves out of the running.

If elected as Taoiseach, Harris will be the youngest politician to ever hold the office. The nominations for next Fine Gael party leader opened at 10am and will close on Monday. No other candidate has declared themselves.

Asked if he would welcome a contest within Fine Gael, Harris appeared to have the attitude that it did not matter to him and promised to bring energy and vigour to the role. 

“I’ve already been doing that today, talking to our councillors, talking and listening – crucially not just talking, listening – to the party right across Ireland. So, I’m ready for what the next few days throw up in that regard.”

file-photo-dated-05052023-of-irish-government-minister-simon-harris-could-be-set-for-a-clear-run-at-becoming-the-next-taoiseach-after-a-series-of-senior-colleagues-said-they-did-not-intend-to-run-fo Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris announced his intention to become the next leader of Fine Gael this evening. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Harris also took the opportunity to thank Leo Varadkar for his service to Fine Gael and the Dáil, before announcing his intention to take over as leader.

He later added that the situation isn’t a “compare and contrast” exercise but does believe that each member brings their “own personal qualities” to the role.

“I want to bring an energy and enthusiasm to the leadership of Fine Gael and anything that flows from that. But I also want to bring my practical life experience. I got involved in politics somewhat accidentally – I’m an accidental politician in many ways.

“When my brother was born with special education needs, I started campaigning in my area to deliver better educational services for kids with Autism. I know the difference politics makes and I want to bring those personal values to the office of leader of Fine Gael and any role I may play in Irish politics.”

‘Reconnecting’ Fine Gael

Harris added that he wants to work with and listen to party colleagues across the country and “reconnect” Fine Gael to its “core principles and to deliver on the issues that matter to people in their daily lives”.

He added that he believes that any change of leadership will bring “a moment of renewal and a moment to reconnect”.

The higher education minister acknowledged that the current political life, life in Fine Gael and life for citizens is “challenging” but wants to bring a renewed energy to all of those aspects while leader.

taoiseach-leo-varadkar-front-speaking-to-the-media-at-government-buildings-in-dublin-he-has-announced-he-is-to-step-down-as-taoiseach-and-as-leader-of-his-party-fine-gael-with-party-colleagues-fr Harris stood with Leo Varadkar as the Taoiseach resigned yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Harris added that Fine Gael needs to shift its focus to the “core business and priorities” that people want to see delivered and will look at how the remainder of the programme for Government can be fulfilled and achieved.

Asked if he would call a general election, Harris said that the current system is protected under the constitution and that the Cabinet remains steadfast in its wish to complete its full term. 

“There’s due to be a general election within the next year and there will be a general election within the next year.

“I’m certainly committed, and I know my party is and as I believe the other parties in Government are, to continue in the work of Government and the programme for Government.”

‘We need to tone it down in politics’

Harris said that the political sphere needs to be toned down “on all sides”, to reduce to toxicity and current rhetoric in the job. 

“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 the serve, to bring to Irish politics.”

tanaiste-micheal-martin-and-higher-education-minister-simon-harris-announce-the-winners-of-the-first-sfi-defence-organisation-innovation-challenge-at-casement-aerodrom-near-dublin-picture-date-wed File image of Taoiseach-hopeful Simon Harris and Tánaiste Micheál Martin. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He added that he had been talking to his wife and two young daughters, aged two and five, about the decision and he is “very grateful” to have their support with his choice.

“It’s for their future, in terms of my children and all children in Ireland, that I want to serve and make a better country.”

‘Seems to be over’

“It all seems to be over,” said one senior government minister in Leinster House earlier today, after a number of ministers ruled themselves out of the race. They added that Harris seemed to have a plan at the ready for when this day would arrive. 

This would tally with what Fine Gael TDs have said, stating that he has had an action plan in the works for the past two years for the day that the Varadkar might step aside. 

From the early hours of this morning, TDs, senators and MEPs were out of the traps backing Harris. 

“I can only see one clear  winner, Simon,” said one TD. “There’s only one person running by the looks of it,” said another. 

It all seemed rather similar to the leadership contest in 2017, when Varadkar announced his candidacy as Fine Gael leader outside his party’s HQ building, flanked by senior members of Cabinet.

This meant his opponent, Simon Coveney’s campaign, which Harris was part of, was almost dead in the water before it began. Harris did not want to be on the losing side again, sources have said. 

The feeling in Fine Gael is that Harris has the energy to reinvigorate the party.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said she met with the minister this morning, adding that she believes he has what it takes to “reset the dial” in terms of going back to the party’s core values.

These are rewarding enterprise, rewarding work and law and order, she told The Journal

Junior ministers Neale Richmond and Patrick O’Donovan, TD and former junior minister Frank Feighan, senators Tim Lombard and Michael Carrigy and MEPs Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh were among the first Fine Gael members to publicly back Harris as their new leader and taoiseach.

McEntee said while she believed Harris would be an excellent candidate she said would not make a decision on who to back until it became clear who was vying for the leadership.

minister-of-state-patrick-odonovan-and-minister-for-justice-helen-mcentee-at-the-backweston-laboratory-campus-in-co-kildare-talking-to-the-media-about-the-fine-gael-leadership-contest-as-mcentee-rule Minister McEntee (L) and Minister O'Donovan both backed Harris as leader earlier today. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

O’Donovan said he has known Simon since they both came into the Dail together in 2011, adding that he is a “very good colleague of mine”.

Minister of State Neale Richmond became the first Fine Gael TD to publicly back a candidate, weighing in behind “his friend for over 25 years”.

“If Simon Harris does declare, I’ll absolutely be backing him to lead our party and be the next taoiseach,” he said on RTE Radio.

Fitzgerald also said she is backing Harris. The Wicklow TD worked with Fitzgerald as her as her parliamentary assistant when she was a senator.

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Muiris O'Cearbhaill & Christina Finn
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