Ireland

Varadkar advises Harris to be ‘authentic’ in Fine Gael leadership

Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar met for over an hour on Monday morning to discuss the transition of power.

Simon Harris speaks to the media after being confirmed as the new leader of Fine Gael
Fine Gael leadership Simon Harris speaks to the media after being confirmed as the new leader of Fine Gael (Eamon Ward/PA)

Outgoing Taoiseach and former Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has told his successor to bring “authenticity” to the office, Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris and Mr Varadkar met for more than an hour on Monday morning to discuss the transition of power.

The pair met at Government buildings in Dublin a day after Mr Harris was selected as the new party leader in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Harris said Mr Varadkar updated him on a “number of national and international issues”.

Asked what advice he was given by Mr Varadkar, he added: “I don’t think he’d mind me saying ‘it is important to be yourself’.



“That every holder of office has to bring themselves and their own authenticity to the role and that’s good advice for which I was truly grateful.”

He added: “I’m aware that as we prepare to take up this role, that we have a number of pressing issues facing Ireland, facing Europe.”

Simon Harris was confirmed as the new leader of Fine Gael, paving the way for him to become Ireland’s youngest premier
Fine Gael leadership Simon Harris was confirmed as the new leader of Fine Gael, paving the way for him to become Ireland’s youngest premier (Eamon Ward/PA)

The 37-year-old, currently the further and higher education minister, was confirmed as leader of Fine Gael after nominations closed and no other candidates put their names forward for the leadership.

It follows the shock announcement by Mr Varadkar that he would be stepping down as Fine Gael leader and would resign as Taoiseach as soon as his successor was selected.

Finance minister Michael McGrath speaking at the opening of the new offices of State Street in Kilkenny
New State Street offices in Kilkenny Finance minister Michael McGrath speaking at the opening of the new offices of State Street in Kilkenny (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Harris said he was looking forward to the next Cabinet meeting on Thursday which will be chaired by Mr Varadkar, who still holds the office of Taoiseach until Mr Harris is formally appointed as expected in April after the Easter recess.

He will also meet the leaders of the other coalition parties this week.

Fianna Fail representative and finance minister Michael McGrath said these discussions will include plans for the future of the Government, as he said the country needs “certainty and stability”.

Speaking in Kilkenny, Mr McGrath added: “We have an agreed programme for Government and all parties are committed to that programme for Government.

“Fianna Fail has been very consistent in our approach to Government over the last four years and we will continue to offer that certainty and stability that I think the country needs at this time.”

Asked about the comments on Monday, Mr Harris said that the relationship between the three coalition leaders is the “key to the success and stability of the Government”.

He added: “That’s where I want to put my real focus and energy into.”

Asked if the coalition parties could expect fundamental changes under his leadership of Fine Gael, Mr Harris said: “I’m very clear on this. There’s a new leader of Fine Gael and Fine Gael has a right to have a new leader and Fine Gael has a right to set out its positions as a political party.

“When you go into coalition, you don’t give up your rights to be a political party – let’s be very clear on that. And my party wants to renew, it wants to reset, it wants to reconnect.

“But I’m really clear as a party leader in the Government, that we will stay true to the programme for Government.”

Mr Harris also said he believes the current Government “should endeavour to go the full term” into early next year.

Mr Harris said he wants to support housing minister and Fianna Fail TD Darragh O’Brien in making “more progress”.

He said: “Government must have and Fine Gael must have the moral courage to admit and acknowledge areas that we want to do better and we want to do more.

“We have an excellent housing minister working extremely hard, he has my full support. Add I want to support him in my new role in making sure we can make even more progress.”

He said there were conversations ongoing in Government in ensuring the Department of Housing had enough capital funding.

Separately, Mr Harris said “legitimate questions” had been raised about the contents of the Government’s hate crime bill, adding that he expects clarifying revisions and amendments to the legislation.