Simon Harris' withdrawal boosts Simon Coveney’s FG leadership odds

Housing Minister Simon Coveney’s supporters are privately claiming a small victory after Health Minister Simon Harris formally ruled himself out of the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Mr Harris insisted yesterday he has a busy portfolio and, after consideration, has decided against competing to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny as party leader.

The decision by Mr Harris, who has worked closely with Mr Coveney across different departments, is seen as a boost to the Cork TD’s intention to run for the leadership.

Mr Harris refused yesterday to say who he will support when the race officially gets underway but he signalled that he would be “very active” about who he would back.

Sources close to Mr Harris say he privately believes that, despite the possibility of several candidates running, that this will now be effectively a “two-horse race”, run between Mr Coveney and Leo Varadkar, the Social Protection Minister.

Mr Kenny has signalled that he will deal with the Fine Gael leadership issue “conclusively” after St Patrick’s Day, following his visit to the US and the White House for the annual celebrations.

Recent polls have shown that Mr Coveney’s chances of winning are much less with a bigger number of candidates. Reduced numbers of candidates thus benefit his chances.

Mr Harris worked closely with Mr Coveney during government formation talks last year. Furthermore, he also had close contact with him when he was in charge of the Office of Public Works at a time when Mr Coveney headed up the Department of Agriculture.

Mr Harris said yesterday that he had thought about running and was “flattered” that colleagues had pressed him to enter the race, but concluded that the time was not right.

“I have a very busy portfolio which I am working quite hard at and frankly I don’t yet have enough experience,” he said.

The thought of putting his focus on issues beyond patients and frontline staff in the health service would be “inappropriate”, added the Wicklow TD.

He refused to say who he would back when the contest gets underway but said that once Enda Kenny indicates he is going, that he will be making it “very clear”.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said that she is “seriously considering” putting her name forward in the leadership race, when one is announced.

The minister explained how there had been four candidates for the position in 2002 when there was last a formal leadership race within Fine Gael.

The four contenders then were Richard Bruton, Gay Mitchell, Phil Hogan, and Enda Kenny, after then-leader and current Finance Minister Michael Noonan stepped down.

Ms Fitzgerald said it was “important” to have a debate and that it would be “healthy” for Fine Gael.

More on this topic

Varadkar says there will be 'more disappointments than appointments' as he considers new CabinetVaradkar says there will be 'more disappointments than appointments' as he considers new Cabinet

Varadkar: Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate deal 'disappointing'Varadkar: Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate deal 'disappointing'

Leo Varadkar holds 'positive and constructive' talks with Simon CoveneyLeo Varadkar holds "positive and constructive" talks with Simon Coveney

'I have faith in my colleagues' says Leo Varadkar ahead of tomorrow's leadership results'I have faith in my colleagues' says Leo Varadkar ahead of tomorrow's leadership results


Incarcerated in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps Zuzana Ruzickova somehow survived and went on to create the complete recordings of her beloved Bach, writes James Lawless.Book review: Nazi horrors replaced by brutal Soviets for piano player

The Menu was delighted to make recent mention of a new UCC postgraduate diploma in Irish food culture and is equally pleased to announce availability of two new bursaries for same.The Menu: Food news with Joe McNamee

George Orwell’s classic novel foretold a lot, but the manner in which we’ve handed over our personal data to faceless corporatocracies is doubleplus-ungood, says Suzanne Harrington.How we sleepwalked into George Orwell’s nightmarish vision

Esther N McCarthy has her eye (and ear) on party speakers for your BBQ, spots a rug that’s out of this world, and revels in all that’s on offer for Heritage Week and Cork Craft Month.Your interiors wish list: Party speakers, Heritage Week and Cork Craft Month

More From The Irish Examiner