Subscriber OnlyPoliticsAnalysis

Now for the hard part: the key decisions facing the new Taoiseach

With his first week in the office of Taoiseach done, here are six major milestones on the journey ahead for Simon Harris

On Friday morning, Taoiseach Simon Harris sat down for the first time with his newly-appointed team of advisers to map out his plans and priorities for the coming months. Immediately afterwards, he was straight into a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris before a press conference with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez. On Monday he will chair his first meeting of the Cabinet committee on housing. He will then meet representatives from the Road Safety Authority and then discuss migration with Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman. With his list of engagements and demands growing by the hour, Harris has also told Fine Gael that he plans to visit every constituency in the country ahead of the local elections.

While he has told his fellow Coalition leaders that his intention is for the Government to go full term, the speculation about an October or November election has not gone away. “There is still a good possibility that we are going in autumn,” one Minister told The Irish Times this week. Either way, Harris has an unenviably short amount of time to make his mark as Taoiseach. With his priorities now set, the next six months will be crucial.


In the next two weeks, while the Taoiseach acquaints himself with his fellow European and world leaders, work will quickly get under way to establish and staff a new task force on safety in Dublin, and to set up the first meetings of two new Cabinet committees. The establishment of the first Cabinet committee – children, education and disability – has already been welcomed by the Opposition. It is likely that one of the first things this committee will discuss will be the date for ratifying the optional protocol for the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, to give disabled people the power to enforce their rights. Through the second committee – migration, integration and Ukraine – Harris will be hoping to explore new ways to tighten up the rules around entry into the State, including the addition of new states to the list of countries of safe origin.



Expect to see the first major announcements from Team Harris in May with a package for both businesses and farmers due to be unveiled. Businesses can expect to pay less PRSI, with measures due to be introduced which could offset some of the extra costs borne by employers with the increase in the national minimum wage. Plans to add an extra two days on to statutory sick leave could be delayed in order to give businesses extra breathing room. There could be either “training vouchers” or money given to companies to upskill employees through courses or education, sources say. At the same time, proposals to assist farmers are expected to be unveiled. One source said this could involve fodder and tillage supports and there will “absolutely have to be a financial element to this” with potential financial incentives mentioned around managing fodder.

On May 27th, Harris will attend his first National Economic Dialogue as Taoiseach to hear the various demands being made by stakeholders for Budget 2025 ahead of the Summer Economic Statement. Harris will outline his thinking around Budget 2025 and the question is: will he play it conservative or will he try to push the envelope? Will he build or dampen expectations?


With a one-week recess at the start of June, the main focus will be on the local and European elections scheduled for Friday June 7th, meaning Harris faces his first major electoral test in just a matter of weeks. Sources say Fine Gael is pretty much finished with local selection conventions, and will run at least 350 candidates across the country. Harris plans to visit every constituency before June and to put his communication abilities to use. Fine Gael has suffered a few local defections since the 2019 local elections when it won 255 seats, and is estimated to have about 250 seats at present. The party also has five MEP seats and it will be a tall order to hold on to all of these. A win by Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen would create a byelection that would have to be defended by the Government, which is an unwelcome prospect that could ultimately feed into the Taoiseach’s wider thinking on the timing of a general election.

Another issue that will arise in late June or early July will be Ireland’s nomination for EU commissioner – EU member states will want to get their names in early. Harris will stick by an agreement to allow a Fianna Fáil name to go forward. If it is Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, expect further change at Cabinet but not for a few months.


The new Taoiseach is pushing his Ministers to progress a number of key pieces of legislation before the summer recess, with the Dáil currently scheduled to rise on Thursday, July 11th. On housing there will be a push to introduce legislation to protect lease lengths after some housing platforms switched to obliging students to commit to uniform 51-week leases for the next academic year, increasing annual rent costs for tenants. Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has been asked to fast-track laws to ensure those using childminders can avail of the existing childcare subsidies. Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Mary Butler will be asked to progress long-promised new mental health laws. On crime, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has been asked to fast-track legislation to give judges new powers to make sure heinous crimes (rape and murder) earn long sentences with those cases not coming back before parole hearings for up to 40 years after sentencing.

The big-ticket item, however, will be the future of RTÉ. Reviews of culture, governance and contractor fees are due in the coming weeks. A senior source confirmed to The Irish Times this weekend that Harris will make a definitive decision on the future funding of RTÉ before the recess. Will he back direct exchequer funding or a new model of TV licence collected by Revenue? We’ll see.


With the Dáil in recess, Simon Harris will have time to turn his attention to party matters and general election planning. There is growing speculation within Fine Gael that a shake-up of the party’s national executive could be in the offing. With a potentially divisive budget looming, all parties will be knuckling down in August to ensure that candidate selection processes for the general election are well under way as budget season will suck up plenty of politicians’ time when it starts the following month.


The battle of Budget 2025 may well be business-related, with Fine Gael coming under sustained pressure to lower the VAT rate for hospitality businesses. Michael McGrath – having resisted pressure from his Coalition colleagues for a budget-style springtime package for businesses – will try to hold the line against introducing a lower tax rate for food services of 9 per cent. Having promised to prioritise and support businesses, however, the pressure on Harris from his ranks will become intense. The Taoiseach has also said that the renters’ tax credit should be more than €1,000 (up from €700) and that, eventually, workers should not pay the higher rate of tax on the first €50,000 of their salary. There will also be a push for universal social charge (USC) cuts. Any of these things on their own would constitute a big chunk of change and severely limit the wider room for manoeuvre.

At the same time, Fine Gael is preparing to unveil a five-year tax strategy, some of which it hopes to achieve in the budget. Most of it, however, will form a key plank of the next Fine Gael general election manifesto. The strategy will be led by Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, Minister of State in the Department of Finance Neale Richmond and other senior members of Fine Gael such as Richard Bruton.

“We really want to do something new,” a source said. It is expected Fine Gael could outline a plan to significantly reduce USC, with one source 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 the new multibillion-euro funds for the future.