Ireland

‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ – Simon Harris hits back over party criticism

The Further and Higher Education Minister announced his candidature on Thursday night, describing the last week as a ‘whirlwind’.

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 for the Fine Gael leadership
Fine Gael leadership contest 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 for the Fine Gael leadership (Brian Lawless/PA)

Simon Harris, who is set to become Ireland’s youngest ever premier, has hit back at criticism that Fine Gael is lacking energy, saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

The Further and Higher Education Minister announced his candidature on Thursday night after receiving a series of endorsements from within the Fine Gael parliamentary party and after a number of senior colleagues said they did not intend to stand to replace outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He described the last week as a “whirlwind” and said he is “overwhelmed and honoured” by the level of support he has secured for his Fine Gael leadership bid.

Mr Harris addressed the media on Friday morning after attending a breakfast meeting with Fine Gael election candidates alongside Justice Minister Helen McEntee in Co Meath.



“I am overwhelmed and honoured by the level of support that I’ve received from so many colleagues, including Helen, over the last number of hours, whether they were ministers, ministers of state, TDs, senators, MEPs, councillors, council candidates, grassroots members,” he said.

“To each and every one of them I want to thank them, I am humbled, and my commitment to them and my commitment to the people of this country, if given the honour of serving, is that I will give this my all and I will work day and night.

“I believe politics is about delivery. It’s about people. Sometimes politics in Ireland has gone a bit too presidential, a bit too personal.

“Politics is about actually getting things done for people. In many ways, I’m an accidental politician. I ended up in politics when my brother was born with autism and I stood as a moody teenager, and started campaigning in Wicklow, saying there has to be a better way of providing educational supports for people with autism.

“I know how politics can deliver for people and, if given the honour of serving, I want to take that can-do approach to getting things done, to renewing our party, to injecting a level of energy and, to anybody who thinks this party is tired, to anyone who thinks this party lacks energy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) speaking to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin
Leo Varadkar steps down as Taoiseach Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) speaking to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin (Nick Bradshaw/PA)

Mr Harris said that if elected the next leader of Fine Gael, he would remain fully committed to the programme for government agreed with coalition partners Fianna Fail and the Green Party.

He stopped short of ruling out a general election this year but insisted such a poll was not his priority.

Asked if he was ruling out a general election this year, Mr Harris replied: “I’m certainly not ruling anything in or out, but my priority at the moment isn’t about elections. My priority is the election of leader of Fine Gael.”

Mr Harris said his vision for Fine Gael was founded on the principle of “equality of opportunity”.

Asked if he was a Thatcherite, an ideology previously attributed to Mr Varadkar, Mr Harris made clear he was not.

“I don’t believe in ideological labels,” he said.

If appointed Fine Gael leader, Mr Harris would be expected to be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail in April
Cabinet meeting If appointed Fine Gael leader, Mr Harris would be expected to be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail in April (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I’m committed to the values of the Fine Gael party. The Fine Gael party is a party that has proudly been Christian democratic. It’s a party, though, that I think in Ireland, labels are often misrepresented.”

Outgoing Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Mr Varadkar surprised many within the political establishment by announcing his resignation on Wednesday.

Aside from Mr Harris, all other senior Fine Gael cabinet ministers have ruled themselves out of contention.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, Ms Helen McEntee, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys and Enterprise Minister and Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney have all said they will not seek a nomination for the leadership.

Ms Humphrey and Ms McEntee are also among a wave of Fine Gael members to have come out publicly in support of Mr Harris.

If appointed Fine Gael leader, Mr Harris would be expected to be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail in April following the Easter recess.

He would become the country’s youngest premier at the age of 37.