Harris steals glory but Fine Gael set to benefit in wake of outcome

Varadkar’s confidence also enhanced by referendum result ahead of big challenges

Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wave at crowds in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wave at crowds in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The warmth of the reception for Minister for Health Simon Harris at Dublin Castle on Saturday was testament to how much credit the public give him for the successful campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

They chanted his name; they hugged him and cried on his shoulder; and, on one placard, a woman declared that she fancied the newly-wed from Wicklow.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also took the applause, but the crowd favoured Harris. It may have jarred with the Fine Gael leader to see his younger colleague, with whom he has had a at times uneasy relationship, steal the glory.

But Varadkar will be reassured that, overall, it is his party reaping a reward.

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The public has been reminded again by Varadkar, Harris and others that Fine Gael and the Government are now led by a younger generation more in tune with modern Ireland than their main rivals in Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael will try to ensure this is not forgotten.

Harris’s leading role in the campaign has gone some way to rebuilding his political capital among his colleagues, too, after he took the wrong side in the Fine Gael leadership contest last year.

Taoiseach triumph

Many will share the plaudits, the referendum would not have happened without the Taoiseach. He was criticised for what opponents claimed was a reticence to support the Oireachtas Committee’s proposal to allow terminations up to 12 weeks, but the delay in outlining a public position was down to political management.

As he approaches his first anniversary in Government Buildings, Varadkar has won a significant victory. His confidence and faith in his own judgment will be enhanced as he faces the three challenges of Brexit, the budget and the end of the confidence-and-supply deal.

The Fine Gael executive council meets tomorrow evening and, apart from a review of the referendum campaign, it will take general election preparations up a level.

On the agenda for the meeting is a move to hold half - 10 out of 20 - of the outstanding selection conventions by the summer.

With the successful referendum now at their backs, it is to the general election that Fine Gael’s attention will turn now.

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