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Friends and colleagues

Simon Harris says he has taken advice from Phil Hogan (among others)

Harris is the presumptive next leader of Fine Gael and likely Taoiseach after Leo Varadkar announced his shock resignation earlier this week.

FURTHER AND HIGHER Education Minister Simon Harris has said he has taken advice and counsel from former government minister and European commissioner Phil Hogan, among others.

Harris is the presumptive next leader of Fine Gael and likely Taoiseach after Leo Varadkar announced his shock resignation earlier this week.

Speaking to reporters in Meath today, Harris described Hogan as a friend and a colleague. He was responding to a report in the Irish Daily Mail yesterday that Hogan had been advising Harris “for weeks” ahead of Varadkar’s resignation.

“Phil is a friend of mine, he’s a colleague of mine,” Harris said.

“I talk to lots of friends and colleagues but I think you’re giving maybe all of us a little but too much credit, on one level. I don’t think anybody saw, certainly I didn’t see, a vacancy arising in the leadership of Fine Gael.

“I can’t speak for Phil but I was certainly stunned and shocked when it did arise in the manner in which it arose.

But Phil Hogan has played a major role in Irish and European politics. He’s somebody that I consider a friend and a colleague and of course I talk to him, and many people.

He said he thought he could “learn lots form Phil but you can learn lots from many people”.

“I like to be a politician and I hope colleagues know me to be one that listens. Listening is very important in politics. We do a lot of talking. Actually being willing to listen.

Actually being willing to take advice, being willing to take counsel. And being willing to listen and take counsel from a wide range of people including people who have sought and secured political office like Phil.

Hogan is the former European Commissioner for Trade, but he resigned in disgrace during lockdown over his attendance at an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner that was held while strict social distancing restrictions were in place. 

It is understood in political circles that Hogan felt deeply betrayed by Varadkar as a result of being forced to resign. When asked about the story in the Mail today, the Taoiseach dismissed it and laughed it off.

“I wasn’t surprised to read the story, whether there is much truth to it or not is another thing entirely,” Varadkar said.

He added: “What, you think your stories are always true?”

Cabinet reshuffle 

Harris appeared with Justice Minister Helen McEntee today, as well as MEP Colm Markey, and European elections candidate Nina Carberry.

Asked whether he would be reshuffling the Cabinet if he is elected as Taoiseach, and whether in particular Enterprise and Employment Minister Simon Coveney’s job was safe, Harris said:

“I’m not the leader of Fine Gael today, sorry about this.

“The contest for the leadership of Fine Gael nominations is still open and when that process closes our party will make an announcement as to who the next leader of Fine Gael is. Should it be me, I’m really looking forward to serving.

If there isn’t a contest, as is the working assumption. That will provide new leader of Fine Gael with a period of space between becoming the leader of Fine Gael and then ultimately seeking to put together a Government in Dáil Éireann and asking Dáil Éireann for a mandate. And that would be a very important period of time for that leader.

Harris said Cabinet appointments were “a matter for another day”.

“I have great colleagues that I serve with every single day. Helen McEntee is a great colleague.

I’m looking forward to asking everybody to step up and serve in the roles that are in my view best suited to their talents and their ability to deliver should I have the opportunity to serve.

 Transition 

Harris was also questioned whether the process for him becoming leader of Fine Gael and seeking a mandate from the Dáil to become Taoiseach could be sped up if there is no leadership contest. 

Varadkar previously said a new leader could be selected by Fine Gael party members before the party’s Ard Fheis on 6 April. This would mean that, in theory, Fine Gael could propose a Taoiseach after the Dáil resumes following the Easter recess on 9 April. 

Speaking earlier today in Brussels, Varadkar said this process could possibly be sped up if there is no contest. Harris said he had not heard Varadkar’s comments.

“I’m going to start as I mean to go on. Any matters that involve the three parties having discussion about the other party leaders can expect to engage with me directly on that and not through the media,” he said.

“So I’m not yet the FG leader. If I am elected the FG leader I’ll obviously want to talk to the Tánaiste and Minister Ryan and take stock, so these are matters that are not entirely for me.

Indeed they’re not entirely for the Government they’re a matter also for the Oireachtas as well so let’s see where the coming days bring us.

With reporting from Jane Matthews in Brussels

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