Simon Harris confirms he will seek Fine Gael leadership, saying ‘I will give this my all’ - as it happened

Minister for Higher Education will become country’s youngest taoiseach if made head of party

Simon Harris


Simon Harris, the Minister for Higher Education, formally declared his intentions to become the next leader of Fine Gael and the country’s next taoiseach on Thursday night.

“I’m in – I want to be the next leader of Fine Gael,” he said on RTÉ's Six One News.

Mr Harris’ move follows Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s surprise announcement on Wednesday that he is resigning from both positions for “personal and political” reasons.

Support for Mr Harris within his parliamentary party grew over the course of the day, with multiple members publicly backing him.

Earlier, Ministers Paschal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys, Helen McEntee, Simon Coveney ruled themselves out as potential successors.

Mr Varadkar will not endorse a candidate in the race to become his successor, he said in Brussels on Thursday, adding there is “no one thing” that triggered his resignation.

Best reads


That concludes our live coverage for the day. Catch up on all of Thursday’s developments in the latest piece from our political correspondents Harry McGee and Jennifer Bray.


Political Correspondent at The Irish Times, Cormac McQuinn, looks back at the career of Simon Harris.


Asked whether his campaign was prepared for a long time, he said: “It may look like that it certainly didn’t feel like that over the past 24 hours ... It came as a great shock that Leo took the decision he did.”

“Whether it is a contest or not, I will be approaching this with energy and vigour,” he added.

Asked how he would differ to Varadkar as taoiseach, Mr Harris said: “It’s not a compare and contrast exercise ... I’m an accidental politician in many ways. My brother was born with special education needs, I started campaigning in my local area for him. I want to really reconnect with our party right across the country.”

A new party leader and taoiseach would “provide an opportunity for fresh ideas”, he said, though he would remain “committed to the programme for government we have in place”.

“I’m very proud of Fine Gael’s vision. There’s always an opportunity for any political party to put an emphasis on areas. Should I be given the opportunity, I look forward to outlining that but tonight isn’t the night for that”, he said, stating that he didn’t want to “take anything for granted” but was putting his name forward.

Asked if he would call a general election, Mr Harris said: “I’m certainly committed, as I know my party, is to continue in Government and with the programme for government.” – Jade Wilson


In a statement, Mr Harris said:

“Firstly I want to thank Leo Varadkar for his leadership of the Fine Gael party over the past seven years – and the his leadership of our country for many of those.

“Leo has steered our party and our country through very challenging times including Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the recent cost-of-living crisis.

“I am humbled and honoured to have received the support from so many members of the parliamentary party, councillors and members across the country throughout the course of the last twenty four hours. I want to thank them for placing their trust in me and I am confirming that I will be seeking to become the next leader of Fine Gael.

“If given the opportunity, I will give this my all.”


He says he is extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from members across the parliamentary party.


Simon Harris is now speaking on the RTÉ Six One news.

“I’m in ... I want to be the next leader of Fine Gael,” he said.

“I’m ready to step up. I’m ready to serve.”


Should the 37-year-old Simon Harris become the next Fine Gael leader, he would also become the country’s youngest taoiseach, a title currently held by Varadkar who took office aged 38 in 2017.


It is understood that Simon Harris will be appearing on the RTÉ Six One news this evening.


In the North, First Minister Michelle O’Neill has stood by her criticism of the resigning Taoiseach after the Tánaiste branded her comments “very partisan”.

Micheál Martin said Ms O’Neill’s remarks following Mr Varadkar’s announcement “left a lot to be desired”.

In a press conference in Belfast on Wednesday, the Sinn Féin vice-president accused Fine Gael of 13 years of “failure” as she insisted it was time for a general election in the Republic.

She was making the comments as First Minister in a joint appearance alongside DUP Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

“Ultimately, it’s for the people to decide who will be the taoiseach.

“So I think it’s now over to the people, there should be an election, people should have a chance to pass their verdict, particularly after 13 years of Fine Gael in power, 13 years of failure on their part, 13 years of failure to build houses, 13 years of failure to support people through the cost-of-living crisis.

“So, ultimately, what we now need to see is an election.” – PA


Fine Gael support for Simon Harris seems to be very widespread. Some of the Minister’s public supporters as of 4.45pm include:


  • Neale Richmond
  • Frank Feighan
  • Peter Burke
  • Colm Burke
  • Brendan Griffin
  • Emer Higgins
  • Jennifer Carroll MacNeill
  • Alan Farrell
  • Martin Heydon
  • Helen McEntee
  • Colm Brophy
  • Patrick Donovan
  • Hildegarde Naughton
  • Paul Kehoe
  • Bernard Durkan


  • Emma Blain (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown)
  • Liam Quinn (Offaly)
  • Shane O’Callaghan (Cork)
  • Vicky Casserly (Lucan)
  • Cyril Burke (Castlebar)
  • Cathal Byrne (Wexford)
  • Lorraine Hall (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown)
  • Anthony Lavin (Howth-Malahide)
  • Anna Grainger (Dundrum)
  • Tom O’Leary (Balbriggan)
  • Damian Boylan (Cork)
  • Melanie Corrgian (Bray West)
  • Irene Winters (Wicklow)
  • Sylvester Bourke (Arklow)
  • Vincent Blake (Baltinglass)
  • Avril Cronin (Baltinglass)
  • Edward Timmuns (Baltinglass)
  • Aoife Flynn Kennedy (Bray East)
  • Derek Mitchell (Greystones)
  • Shay Cullen (Wicklow)
  • Conor Bergin (Borris-in-Ossory/Mountmellick)


  • Barry Ward
  • John McGahon
  • Martin Conway
  • Michael Carrigy
  • Tim Lombard
  • Mary Seery Kearney
  • Regina Doherty
  • Garrett Ahearn
  • Sean Kyne
  • Paddy Burke
  • John Cummins
  • Emer Currie
  • Maria Byrne


  • Maria Walsh
  • Frances Fitzgerald
  • Colm Markey
  • Seán Kelly


From our political correspondent Cormac McQuinn:

Minister of State for Agriculture and Kildare South TD Martin Heydon said on Thursday: “Simon Harris has my full support as he prepares to take on the mantle of Fine Gael Party leader. He is an excellent communicator with a strong work ethic and will bring great energy and enthusiasm to the role.”


Fine Gael Senator Maria Byrne is among the most recent party members to publicly endorse Simon Harris for the party leadership and for taoiseach.


Our Political Editor Pat Leahy writes from Brussels:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there is “no one thing” that triggered his resignation on Wednesday but that he had been doing the job long enough and it was time for a change.

Speaking to reporters as he entered the summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Mr Varadkar said: “There’s no event, there’s no one thing. I appreciate the need for journalism to have ‘a thing’ or a moment but in real life it’s often not like that.”

“But for me, I’m here in Brussels today,” Mr Varadkar went on, “I’ve been coming to Brussels for nearly 14 years now without a break, representing the country as a minister and then as Taoiseach and tánaiste. There comes a time when you need to move on and you need to make space for new people and new ideas and new energy and that’s what I want to do.”

Mr Varadkar prefaced his remarks with an outline of the issues that EU leaders were planning to discuss, with a particular focus on Gaza.

Read the report in full here:


Also speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Labour leader Ivana Bacik accused the mechanisms used to select a new taoiseach of being an “act of political self-preservation”.

“Fine Gael is grappling with an exodus, Fianna Fáil and the Greens will apparently cling to a sinking ship no matter what, following yesterday. And it’s having a serious effect on our policies, on our governance.”

Mr Martin replied that she should be “careful” about accusations of “sinking ships” considering the state of her own party.

“Your own party will want to rise a bit more, I think, before you lecture others about sinking ships,” he said. – PA


Political correspondent Jennifer Bray writes in her latest analysis:

Before the clock had struck 7am on Thursday and before the first headlines were rolling, a plan had been hatched.

Leo Varadkar may have blindsided almost everyone in Fine Gael with his decision to step down but behind closed doors on Wednesday the leadership candidates sprang immediately into action, wasting no time hitting the phones.

Fine Gaelers may have been out on the airwaves declaring it was Varadkar’s day and not the time to be talking shop, but privately they were conveying their support to their preferred leadership candidates. By Wednesday night a sketch had emerged of how Thursday would play out. Sources in the Simon Harris camp said late Wednesday that he had the support of at least 20 members of the parliamentary party, and this is exactly how it played out on Thursday morning.

Paschal Donohoe, en route to a job in Dundalk on Thursday, briefly remarked when asked about running himself that it was “a little bit too early for all of that”.

Supporters of Heather Humphreys said she was holding her counsel for the time being.

Simon Coveney had already ruled himself out.

And then, on LMFM, Helen McEntee dramatically ruled herself out, saying she decided last year if an immediate vacancy arose she would wait it out. When asked who she would be backing, she declined to say.

The pitch was clear for Harris, and the first out of the traps in the Fine Gael parliamentary party was Senator Barry Ward, who told The Irish Times at 7:59am he would be formally nominating Harris.

Read the full piece here


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at a European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.


Elsewhere on Thursday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has accused Sinn Féin of not having the substantial policies needed to contest a general election.

The Fianna Fáil leader and Minister for Foreign Affairs sparred with Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty during Leaders’ Questions over the Coalition Government’s record in office.

Opposition parties are pushing for a general election to be called after Mr Varadkar announced his resignation on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Doherty said: “The Taoiseach has thrown in the towel, he has said he’s not up for the job. None of you are up for the job. What the public need is change.

“What they don’t need is a rearranging of the deckchairs in this Government, a Government that is spectacularly failing.

“Let the people decide, because we will go toe to toe with you in the morning.”

Mr Martin said the people do not want a general election.

“You want an election every year,” he said. “I’m more focused on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to people.”

Mr Martin said he has fought “far” more elections than Mr Doherty and warned him: “Don’t be talking to me and lecture me on elections.

“You’re not ready for a general election, deputy. No, you’re not. You need policies, deputy, and you need substance. You don’t have substance.”

He added: “Just last week your party were calling us and acknowledged and thanked the Government in terms of the Shared Island initiative and huge funding in Northern Ireland.

“I thought the comments from your First Minister left a lot to be desired. Very partisan comments from the First Minister in respect of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, given a month ago, the glowing response to the Government’s Shared Island Initiative.

“We’ve done more in respect of cross-Border development and investment in Northern Ireland than any government for many a year.”

Mr Doherty said: “We’re told that the front-runner for the highest office in the land is Simon Harris.

“Let’s remember that this is a minister whose record in the Department of Health was so bad that it precipitated the last general election. A man who made false promises to children with scoliosis and their families about when they would get their treatment.

“If this is best this Government can muster, it is clear that this is a Government that is out of touch, that is out of time.” – PA


People Before Profit has been extremely critical of the current situation, describing the leadership race as a “coronation” of Simon Harris as taoiseach.

“Why is the election of a taoiseach the sole preserve of Fine Gael and its privileged and conservative members? Surely the Irish people should have the ultimate say through a general election,” she said.

Ms Smith also criticised Mr Harris’ legacy while he was Minister for Health.

“People Before Profit has no confidence in Simon Harris. The people have no confidence in this Government. We need a general election now,” she added.


Barry Saul, chairman of the Fine Gael councillors’ representative group, said they want new vision for the party.

Speaking on RTÉ, he said there is “strong support” for Simon Harris and he has a good relationship with councillors.

He said that in an “ideal world” there would be a contest for the party’s new leader, but acknowledged time is tight with the local elections coming up.


Marie O’Halloran reports:

In the Dáil, Labour leader Ivana Bacik highlighted social media abuse as she too called for a general election. She said that Leo Varadkar “has endured some awful abuse personally, in his office as Taoiseach.

“I think we’re all aware of that. And I think we’re also worried that it would become harder to enter politics and to stay in it due to the levels of toxicity in public debate,” she said.

But she said “I think this should not deter us from criticising what is clearly a bad political decision to continue on in office,” because “your Government is tarnished, is out of ideas and it’s lacking in focus, it’s lacking in commitment and ambition and energy”.

The Government’s plan to run its full course until next March “puts the longevity of a Fine Gael-led government above the public interest. And it will be the second time that Fianna Fáil has done this in the last Dáil term.”

She said that Fine Gael is grappling with an exodus of TDs from politics, while “Fianna Fáil and the Greens will apparently cling to a sinking ship no matter what” and it was “having a serious effect on our policies on our governance at a time when people need politics to work”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin warned her that she “should be careful about referencing sinking ships in politics. Your own party would want to rise a bit more” he said, before the election or there might be other sinking ships.

He said “I agree with you 100 per cent in relation to that [abuse towards politicians] I think we all collectively have to address that issue”.

Mr Martin said that “even yesterday in the environs of Leinster House there were people trying to encroach upon and disrupt public service broadcasting as a major news event” was being covered.


Not only is Minister for Justice Helen McEntee not putting her name forward, she is also supporting Simon Harris.


Jennifer Carroll McNeill, who was also thought to be a potential candidate in the leadership race, has said she will be supporting Simon Harris.

She said for her it is a “shadow too early” in her career to run for leader of the party.


Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has also ruled herself out of the leadership race, and said she will back Simon Harris.


Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on Thursday announced he will not be putting his name forward to lead Fine Gael.

“I have long said that my focus is on the two jobs that I am privileged to hold; that of Government Minister and as President of the Eurogroup. That remains to be the case. It is with a huge honour that I undertake my work on the domestic and international stage,” he said in a statement.

“It was a great surprise to learn of Leo’s intentions. I thank him for his great service to Ireland and for the opportunities that he has afforded me. I do believe that a wealth of talent and experience exists in Fine Gael and that exciting times lie ahead, both for the Party and ultimately for the country.”


Leo Varadkar has ruled out endorsing a candidate in the race to replace him as Fine Gael leader and ultimately taoiseach.

Political Editor Pat Leahy in Brussels reports:

“There’s a very long-standing tradition in Fine Gael, a very good one, that outgoing or former party leaders don’t endorse a particular candidate,” he said. “So I’m not going to do that. The reason I’m not going to do that is that it will allow me to support wholeheartedly whoever if elected as the next leader.”

Asked if a contest would be beneficial, Mr Varadkar said: “Look, it’s not essential. I think it can be beneficial because it allows there to be a debate about ideas and policies and priorities. But it’s not something that’s essential.”

Pressed about his personal reasons for leaving office, he said: “There’s no event, there’s no one thing. I appreciate the need for journalism to have ‘a thing’ or a moment but in real life it’s often not like that.

“But for me, I’m here in Brussels today, I’ve been coming to Brussels for nearly 14 years now without a break, representing the country as a minister and then as Taoiseach and tánaiste. There comes a time when you need to move on and you need to make space for new people and new ideas and new energy and that’s what I want to do.

“What I’m saying is it’s time for change. Time for somebody new. I think it will be good for the party, more importantly it will be good for the Government, good for the country. I’ve had the privilege for over 13 years to represent Ireland around the world to come to Brussels to attend meetings like this. But it can’t be forever, and I don’t want it to be forever.

“You know I left Leinster House last night at nearly 10pm. I went home, had a takeaway, had a chat with my partner and got up at 8am, or no, before 8am, at 6.45, to get on a plane at 8 o’clock – you know, you don’t need to do that forever.”

Mr Varadkar was asked if he feels relief following his resignation, but said he does not know as it “hasn’t sunk in yet”.

He said the referendum result did not have a bearing on his decision – “not really” and he made “the final decision” at the weekend.

“And I think once the decision was made in my mind it was important to act on it. And particularly with the ardfheis coming up. That’s a particular moment where I would have either have to set out my thinking, my ideas, my vision for the next two years or five years, or not – and that kind of focused the mind for me. But it was something I had being weighing up since Christmas-new year.”


From the same event, here’s Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, who is one of several junior ministers now backing Simon Harris.

“I have my mind made up and I will be supporting Minister Simon Harris,” he said. “I’ve known Simon since we came into the Dáil together in 2011. He’s a very good colleague mine, I have worked closely with him.

“I think at the moment, where Fine Gael is, we’re a year out from a general election ... we have plenty of time, plenty of scope, to rebuild the organisation, refocus on the issues that are important to us and I think Simon is best placed to do that.”


Helen McEntee has spoken about her decision not to run for the leadership of Fine Gael at the opening of the new Forensic Science Ireland facility in Celbridge. Conor Lally reports:

Ms McEntee said she had made a decision “a year or two ago” that if the role became vacant “in the immediate future” she would not be putting herself forward.

“That’s not to rule me out in the future. I’ve always said I’m ambitious and that hasn’t changed, it’s not going to change. But I believe now is not the right time for me.” She would not “rule anything out in the future” and believe she had “a lot still to give”.

She believed she had “excellent colleagues” in Fine Gael who would make an “excellent” party leader and taoiseach, adding Leo Varadkar had a very significant impact on both the party and on the country over many years. He had “always been courageous and brave” and put the country first.

However, in choosing a new party leader she said “I hope we have a contest” as the last leadership contest offered Fine Gael the chance to show the public “who we are as a party, what we represent” and enabled it engage with its members. She also believed the Coalition “will stand for the full five years”.

Asked who she was backing for leader, she said: “I think until everybody makes their position known, I’m not going to, at this early stage, come out. Simon would, of course, make an excellent candidate but there are others as well who would. And until everybody has made themselves known, if there are to be other candidates, I’ll make by decision then.”


Marie O’Halloran reports:

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty has opened Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil with the leadership change in Fine Gael. He told Tánaiste Micheál Martin that Fianna Fáil had been facilitating the appointment of four Fine Gael taoisigh since 2016.

He said that the legacy of Fine Gael is the housing crisis and the “highest ever level of homelessness”, the highest house prices ever and “the highest rents we’ve ever seen and the lowest levels of home ownership in 50 years”.

The Donegal TD said “that’s Leo’s legacy but it’s also your legacy and your Government’s legacy”.

Hitting out at the Fine Gael front-runner Simon Harris Mr Doherty said “let’s remember that this is a Minister whose record in the Department of Health was so bad that it precipitated the last general election, a man who made false promises, to children with scoliosis and their families about when they would get their treatment”.

He accused Mr Harris of being instrumental in successive Government failures in health and housing and mental health services.

“And if he’s the best this Government can offer it is clear that this is a Government that is out of touch, that is out of time and is out of ideas” he said calling for a general election.

The next taoiseach should have a mandate directly from the people he said. “People right across the State are crying out for change.” He said that if the Tánaiste was confident about his record “why don’t you put it to the people and let the people decide? What are you afraid of?”


Senator John Cummins has also confirmed he is backing Simon Harris, as has Senator Emer Currie.


In contrast to the overwhelming vocal support for Simon Harris this morning, three Fine Gael Shannonside councillors are backing Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys to succeed Leo Varadkar – if she puts her name forward.

Longford councillors Peggy Nolan and Paraic Brady and Leitrim councillor Enda McGloin said they would vote for the Cavan-Monaghan TD if she enters the leadership race.

Cllr Brady believes Ms Humphreys can deliver what’s needed to be the next taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.


Junior minister Patrick O’Donovan has now also rowed in behind Simon Harris, bringing his support in the parliamentary party up to 22.


Leo Varadkar is in Brussels today, and will speak with media later this afternoon. However, when he was leaving his hotel, a number of journalists shouted at him asking if he was “looking for a new job in Europe”.

He laughs and says: “No, definitely not.”


Why did Leo Varadkar choose this moment to go?

Listen | 35:26
Pat Leahy, Jennifer Bray and Jack Horgan-Jones join Hugh Linehan to discuss today's unexpected announcement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he is stepping down.

Our politics team looked at why Leo Varadkar announced his resignation in the latest episode of Inside Politics.


Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell has also just confirmed his backing for Simon Harris on Newstalk. This brings the number of members of the parliamentary party who have expressed support for Harris to 21.


MEP Seán Kelly and Senator Paddy Burke have endorsed Simon Harris, bringing his total to 20, including a majority of both Senators and MEPs.


Colm Brophy and Peter Burke are the latest politicians to endorse Simon Harris. Meanwhile, Richard Bruton refuses to back a candidate as no one is officially nominated yet. He said he would favour a contest.


Jennifer Bray writes:

While Simon Harris has swept the floor, with 15 members of the parliamentary party giving him their backing just as nominations open at 10am, there are still many within the party who are pushing for Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys to run. Both could command significant party support, particularly Donohoe.


Marie O’Halloran reports from the Dáil:

While frenetic activity continues on nominations for Fine Gael party leader, in the Dáil normal business continues with Tánaiste Micheál Martin taking defence questions.

The only reference to the leadership contest was made by Solidarity TD Mick Barry when he said to the Tánaiste: “busy day yesterday over at Tweedledee’s”.


This is just in from political correspondent Jennifer Bray: Helen McEntee has said she will not be in the race to become the next party leader.


The Fine Gael leadership contest, and the race to select a new taoiseach for this country, began almost immediately following Leo Varadkar’s shock announcement on Wednesday afternoon that he was stepping down as party leader.

The Fine Gael executive council met on Wednesday evening to agree the nomination procedure for candidates, while chairman of the Fine Gael executive council Willie Geraghty was appointed the national returning officer for the leadership contest. The entire election process will be overseen by Fine Gael’s executive council.

Sorcha Pollak has provided a useful explainer on how the next few weeks will work. You can read her full report here


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that the office of taoiseach should not be “reduced to an internal conversation within the parliamentary party”.

Following the resignation of Leo Varadkar on Wednesday, the race has begun to find his replacement as leader of the Fine Gael party. Mr Varadkar said he will remain as Taoiseach until a new leader has been chosen, after which point that individual would become taoiseach.

However, Ms McDonald said the idea of Fine Gael making the decision on who will be the next taoiseach “is really not acceptable”.

“That to me is not, let me repeat, not the appropriate or healthy or effective way for the leader of Government to be the person who ultimately acts and works in service of our of communities and the Irish nation, I think this is the wrong approach, and I think it will cause a huge amount of frustration out on the ground and in my opinion,” she told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

“We’re four years into this administration, we’re on taoiseach number three. The Taoiseach himself outgoing has stood aside saying he’s no longer fit for the job, that he’s not the person to lead. I think his reflection on himself is very much a collective reality in terms of the Government which has run out of road.

She added: “The appetite for change that was evident in 2020 is still there. It’s alive. And I think at this juncture, the appropriate democratically correct thing to do is to go back to the people, put the people in the driving seat and ask them what they believe should be, and consequently, who should lead Government.”


Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald has also declared her support for Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.

She said: “Simon is conscientious, caring and hardworking. He has shown leadership in every ministerial portfolio he has held-he takes courageous and tough decisions.

I have no doubt that he is the most capable person to lead us into the general, European and local elections.”


Simon Harris has become the first Fine Gael candidate to secure a nomination in a leadership race that was thrown wide open by the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Minister of State for Business Neale Richmond became the first TD to publicly back Harris on Thursday morning, and his announcement came at the same time as a number of councillors and senators also gave the Minister for Higher Education their backing.

Read Jennifer Bray’s full report here


Minister for Education Norma Foley said the leadership of Fine Gael is that party’s business.

Under the Programme for Government “it is very clear that leadership is a matter for the parties concerned,” the Fianna Fáil politician told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

There is a three party agreement and “we honour that. It is important for stability to do that”.

“This Government provided stability,” she added.


Some more breaking news from Jennifer Bray: Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh confirms to The Irish Times that she will support Simon Harris.


The support for Simon Harris is coming in thick and fast. Jennifer Bray reports:

Senator Martin Conway has also now declared for Simon Harris, The Irish Times has learned.


Neale Richmond becomes the first TD to publicly declare for Simon Harris.

The Minister of State for Business said: “If Simon Harris does declare, I’ll absolutely be backing him to lead our party and be the next taoiseach.”

Mr Richmond said Mr Harris, if elected, would be a “good leader” and a “step change” for the party.

He commended the Minister’s political legacy, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Simon is something different, something new. Now is an opportunity for the party to move forward,” he said.

By our count, Mr Harris is halfway there to getting the required signatures to be nominated, based on declared candidates.

Mr Richmond said he would welcome a leadership contest as it would be a “good thing”.

“But ultimately I will support Simon. I do think Simon Harris is the best person for the job.”


Jennifer Bray reports: Paschal Donohoe is holding his counsel for the moment. Sources say he is on the way to Dundalk for an engagement and will head to the Euro Summit this afternoon.


Senator Barry Ward has told The Irish Times he will be formally nominating Simon Harris this morning. Mr Harris, like all other prospective leadership hopefuls, needs six nominations from TDs, Senators or MEPs.

Cllr Emma Blain, who has represented the Glencullen Sandyford local electoral area on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council since 2016, has expressed her support for Simon Harris.

In a post on social media, she said: “I’ve known him for many years, (long before his hair went silver) and he is undoubtedly the most dedicated, hard working politician I’ve ever known. Personable and proactive, for these reasons, and many more, I think Simon Harris is the best person to lead Fine Gael and the country.”


This is just in from political correspondent Jennifer Bray:

Expect the fun to start after 8am, with multiple members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party confirming to that they plan to come out in support of Simon Harris once the first shot has been fired – likely on Morning Ireland.

There is very much a push for a leadership contest though. One source says there is clear view on the executive council that a contest would be healthy.


Alan Dillon, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, said he is confident Fine Gael can gain more seats in the next general election under a new leader.

Mr Dillon told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that as chairperson of the party it was his role to ensure that the contest for a new leader runs smoothly and fairly. “I think everyone would welcome a contest” he said when asked if there would be a contest.

Nominations for leader of Fine Gael will open today and close on Monday. A nominee will need at least 10 per cent backing, a minimum of six party members. There will then be regional hustings on March 26th, 27th and 28th, with voting among party councillors on April 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Following that, there will be a meeting of the parliamentary party on April 5th where the votes will be verified and counted and the new leader announced before the party’s ardfheis on April 6th.

“This will mark the beginning of a new era for Fine Gael.”

Mr Dillon said Mr Varadkar’s resignation had caught everyone off guard, but the party respected the Taoiseach’s decision.

“I think for anyone to resign from high office certainly takes a certain level of courage and dedication. And he believes that a new leader will be in a better place to gain seats, and renew and strengthen the top tier team within Fine Gael,” he said.

“And I think, what we need now is to move on from yesterday’s earthquake, to ensure that we have a structured process in place, which will be overseen by the senior executive council, which met last night to discuss the way forward. It’s a transparent and inclusive process that gives every member a voice.”

The party was fortunate the have “really high calibre” men and women within the party who could contest the leadership.

“I think having a contest will, in one sense, allow those candidates to engage with the membership all across the country, in outlining their position, creating a renewed focus on both the direction of the party, but also in policy.”

Mr Dillon declined to say who he would support in the leadership contest, stating it would not be appropriate in his role as chairman.

“I’m confident that this Government can certainly be re-elected whenever the next general election is called. I think Fine Gael, under a new leadership, can gain seats in the next election and lead the Government, to a historic fourth term. I think that’s achievable with a new leader in charge,” he said.

“Certainly, I think that will bring a lot of energy. And, I think this party is in a good position. I think we also need to refocus on the work at hand.”

– Vivienne Clarke reports


Wednesday was a big day in national politics. Here is a photograph that sums it up: Leo Varadkar looking emotional before his official resignation announcement, with Fine Gael politicians standing around him.


Simon Harris is the early front-runner to become the new leader of Fine Gael and taoiseach after his Cabinet colleague Simon Coveney ruled himself out of contention, one of the stories on The Irish Times’s front page reports this morning.

Coalition insiders say a run by Paschal Donohoe should not be ruled out, however, with Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee also in the picture.

Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton and Minister of State for Financial Services Jennifer Carroll MacNeill were not drawn on their designs on Wednesday.

How does it work? Nominations will open at 10am on Thursday and close at 1pm on Monday. Leadership hopefuls need six nominations from TDs, Senators or MEPs.

If two or more candidates emerge, there will be hustings next week, followed by a vote the week after, with a winner declared before the Fine Gael Ardfheis on April 6th. The Dáil would then, as it stands, elect a new taoiseach on April 9th.