No snap election to come, says Harris, as he reassures Coalition colleagues of going ‘full term’

No ‘age cap’ for Cabinet reshuffle but focus is on gender and geography, says incoming taoiseach

Incoming taoiseach Simon Harris has insisted there will be no snap election under his leadership.

He said he had told the Fianna Fáil and Green Party leaders that “you won’t be turning on the telly to see if the leader of Fine Gael is about to announce an election.

“I’m very clear in relation to mature responsibility leadership, and that means going to its full term.”

He said he would use his very best judgment to put together the “best Cabinet that I can and the best team”.


Speaking to reporters on Friday in advance of the party’s ardfheis in Galway, Mr Harris rejected as unfair a question as to whether he would be dropping Minister for Justice Helen McEntee from Cabinet. He said “my colleague and friend Minister McEntee is a very important part of the party”.

With focus on gender and geography for his Cabinet, Mr Harris insisted there was no “age cap” or maximum age for his reshuffle.

“I do believe you know, I believe in trying to bring the diversity of viewpoints into the Cabinet. Lots of people have different talents, different strengths.”

Mr Harris was also pressed about a “sting operation” by Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan in 2021 in an attempt to expose him as leaking from Cabinet.

Asked if that was something that would play against Mr O’Donovan when he was thinking of a reshuffle, Mr Harris said “rumour mills” would “not be a factor in my thinking.

“My thinking is about putting the best team possible in place, harnessing all of the talents.”

Asked for his comment Mr O’Donovan said “I have a very good relationship with the leader and have always had and will always have”.

He acknowledged that it was a time of tension in advance of the reshuffle and that some people would be delighted next week but others would feel a “sense of personal disappointment”.

But he insisted that there would be a “role for everybody in the party”.

Asked how he would maintain a united party with those who are disappointed he said “we’re here to do the people’s work” and people should know that “some people get an opportunity this time and some people get an opportunity in the future”.

Mr Harris said the ardfheis was about Fine Gael lifting its head and believing in itself. “The most important thing for Fine Gael to turn things around is self-belief and energy. This is a party that is fighting fit.”

Fine Gael won 255 seats in the local elections in 2019.

Mr Harris said he is not setting any specific targets for the number of seats he wants to see the party win when voters go to the polls in June saying he is “just in the door as leader”

He insisted the party is “fighting fit” with “incredible candidates in every community right across the country.”

He added: “What this ardfheis is about, is about the party lifting its head and believing in itself because this is a party that has a major role to play, both in the local elections and the European elections, and in due course in the general election in competing to be able to form a future government.”

Mr Harris said he plans to visit every constituency between now and the local elections.

Mr Harris was asked about a report in the Irish Independent that secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt will see his pay rise to more than €320,000 in the coming years due to the new public sector pay deal and whether he would consider putting a cap on the salaries of secretary generals.

Mr Harris said he would not personalise his response to any one individual while pointing out that the public sector pay agreement “does see all people right across the public service benefit.”

He said: “In relation to the broader issue of sec gen pay and the like – I know this is an area that we will be giving consideration to in the context of how sec gens are appointed.”

Asked if there might be a pay cap in future he replied: “I think it’s something that merits consideration in the future but I’m not relating this to any one individual.

“Individuals are hired under a contract and individuals then obviously can benefit from the public sector pay deal as can all members or people who work in the public service.”

On the planned review of Ireland’s handling of the Covid-19, Mr Harris said he was not nervous about a spotlight being put on his time as minister for health at the start of the pandemic.

He said: “It’s really important that we have an evaluation of Covid, how this country did and I can point to figures that shows we did relatively well compared to other countries, but that doesn’t mean that everything was gotten right, and it doesn’t mean that lessons can’t be learned and it doesn’t mean that we can’t be better prepared for the next pandemic.”

In relation to when the timing of the review Mr Harris said he was “eager to move this on” and “it’s something that I believe is almost ready to go to Cabinet”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times