Leo Varadkar attends what is likely to be his last Cabinet meeting

The taoiseach-in-waiting Simon Harris said he was looking to ‘turbo charge’ parts of the programme for government.

Leo Varadkar speaks to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin
Leo Varadkar speaks to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin (Grainne Ni Aodha/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he is confident the country is in good hands before attending what is likely to be his last Cabinet meeting before he steps down.

A week ago, Mr Varadkar surprised the Irish political system by announcing he was stepping down as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.

Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris was declared Fine Gael leader on Sunday after other heavyweights in the party said they would not run.

When the Irish Parliament returns from the Easter recess on Tuesday April 9, it will vote on whether Mr Harris will become the next, and youngest, Irish premier.

On his way into Cabinet on Wednesday, Mr Harris said he aims to meet with the other coalition party leaders, Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

He also said he would look to “turbo charge” the programme for government.

Ahead of Cabinet, Mr Varadkar was seen greeting Mr Harris in front of Government Buildings.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Varadkar said this would “probably” be his last Cabinet meeting, and based on a rough count it is his 650th one.

He added it was “quite a busy one” as ministers tried to get things approved before “the changeover”.

When it was put to him that people were finding it difficult to accept there was no scandal or disquiet in Fine Gael that led to his resignation, he said: “I know people struggle to accept that politicians tell the truth.

“Almost all the time we do, or at least what we believe to be the truth. So, the reasons are the ones that I set out, and it is as simple as that.”

Mr Harris told reporters there are “real areas” that he wants to make progress on.

“What in the programme for government could be turbocharged, that could be accelerated, that could be delivered quickly for people? And are there new areas that I as party leader want to outline in terms of the vision for Fine Gael?”

Asked about the possible reshuffle among Fine Gael ministers, he said: “I’m not there at all in my head yet.

“What I want to do today is endeavour to meet with my fellow party leaders, with the leader of the Fianna Fail party, the Tanaiste, and the leader of the Green Party Minister Ryan.”

Simon Harris speaks to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin
Simon Harris speaks to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin (Grainne Ni Aodha/PA)

He added: “I understand, respectively, why the individual appointments matter, and of course they do. But for me right now, the most important thing is policy, what can we get done for the Irish people, because I think there’s a real sense out there that people want delivery.

“They want politicians to get back to bread-and-butter issues, roll up our sleeves and get stuck in, and from day one that’s what I’ll do.”

Mr Varadkar said he had no advice for Mr Harris about ministerial appointments, but he did have advice for party members.

He said: “Rather than giving Simon Harris advice, I’d just ask other people in the parliamentary party to give him a fair go.

“There are lots of people who are going to be disappointed and that’s just the nature of these things.

“Don’t take it personally. Buckle down, work hard, and as I probably helped to demonstrate in the past couple of weeks, opportunities arise in politics all the time.”

Asked if he felt relief going into his last Cabinet meeting, Mr Varadkar said “it’s too early to say”.

“If there is one thing it is confidence, confidence that there’s a really good team there and they will continue the work that I’ve been part of for the past 13 years. The country is in good hands.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said his constituency colleague Mr Harris will be “Wicklow’s first taoiseach”.

“I’ve seen the hard work, I’ve seen the energy he brings to his role as minister and I’ve no doubt he’s going to do the same in terms of his role as taoiseach.”