Harris scraps difficult proposals, aiming instead for focused approach to childcare, farms and business

Referendum on patents, vote on Dublin mayor and disabilities Green Paper among plans to be dropped

New Taoiseach Simon Harris has moved to scrap some potential political liabilities as he finalises the agenda for his first weeks in office, with new childcare supports and initiatives for farming and business to come.

Mr Harris will abandon a controversial Government proposal on disabilities social welfare provision and will place a proposed referendum on an EU patent court on the back burner as he looks to focus on a limited number of areas where objectives can be achieved before the next election.

Meetings in Brussels and Warsaw on Thursday, and the visit of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez to Dublin on Friday, where the plan for several EU states to recognise Palestinian statehood was among the issues discussed, have meant that the focus in the first days of Mr Harris’s tenure has been on international affairs.

But domestic issues have a greater political importance and they are likely to be more prominent in the coming weeks.


Mr Harris met his team of officials at Government Buildings on Friday morning to map out his priorities for the rest of the year.

Officials are said to be examining the establishment of a dedicated fund to help creche providers expand their services which would also assist other creche owners who have been forced to close down, in a bid to alleviate a shortage of childcare places for young parents. Officials are also discussing a possible new model of childcare for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The first meeting of an interdepartmental group to implement the optional protocol for the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has also been set for this month, with the intention to name a date in the near future. The protocol would give disabled people the power to seek enforcement of their rights under the protocol.

The Government will also scrap the controversial Green Paper on disability reform, which proposes changes to social welfare benefits for people with disabilities, and had been the subject of protests from disabilities groups. Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys confirmed the move and said there were “significant concerns about the proposals”. She pledged that a new Cabinet committee would take a “fresh look” at supports for disabled people.

It is expected that the proposed referendum to join the EU patent court will be shelved next week. A potential plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Dublin is also on hold, with “no plans” for a date.

Mr Harris has also indicated to his fellow Coalition party leaders that he wants to make a decision on the future funding of RTÉ before the summer recess, with decisions on the future of hate speech legislation and proposed laws on longer opening hours also expected before then.

The Taoiseach will chair his first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Housing on Monday with the waiver of development levies, under which property developers contribute to the cost of providing public infrastructure and services, likely to be agreed by Government.

The Fine Gael leader has also indicated to party members that he intends to travel to every constituency in the country before the local and European elections. The party is already gearing up for the general election, with a source confirming that a new group tasked with devising a five-year tax strategy will examine potential ways in which to slash the universal social charge (USC) in the coming years. While some of the tax pledges will be achieved in Budget 2025, such as ensuring fewer workers pay the higher rate of tax, much of the new strategy will instead form a key plank of the Fine Gael general election manifesto.

“We really want to do something new”, a source said, describing the existing level of USC as a “real kick in the teeth” for voters. The document will also outline tax supports for businesses and entrepreneurs as well as looking at the future of inheritance tax, capital gains tax, carbon tax and new multibillion-euro funds for the future.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times