Higher education minister Simon Harris confirms bid for Fine Gael leadership

The current higher education minister has received backing from nearly a third of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has confirmed he will run for leader of Fine Gael, making him the sole contender so far for Ireland’s next Taoiseach.

Speaking on RTÉ today, Harris said he is “ready to step up” to the leadership role and “give it [his] all”.

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

“I want to work with colleagues, I want to listen, I want to really reconnect with our party right across the country. I want to get back to core principles.”

The higher education minster quickly became the expected sole contender for the top Fine Gael role as other senior members of the party ruled themselves out.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys were the last Fine Gael cabinet ministers to announce they did not intend to run, paving the path for Harris for an uncontested leadership race.

Donohoe said he planned to continue his work on the “domestic and international stage” as finance minister and Eurogroup president, which he would have to drop if he became Taoiseach.

Humphreys told RTÉ News outside Leinster House: “I have reached the decision that I will not be putting my name forward as leader of Fine Gael, but I will be giving my full support to Simon Harris.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she did not plan on running for leader earlier today, while Fine Gael deputy leader and Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney ruled himself out yesterday.

While the Fine Gael leadership remains open for contest, it is expected that Harris will run unopposed for the position. Junior minister Jennifer Carrol MacNeill has also ruled herself out of the race, while Minister Peter Burke has declared his support for Harris.

31 Fine Gael TD, senators and MEPs have declared their support for Harris, 37% of parliamentary party members and well above the minimum six backers needed to secure a nomination.

Nominations for Fine Gael leadership will officially close on March 25 at 1pm, with the vote taking place between April 2 and April 4.

The new Fine Gael leader will be elected ahead of the party’s Ard Fheis on April 6th.

Harris first entered the Dáil in 2011 at the age of 24, the youngest TD at the time.

He served as a junior minister between 2014 and 2016 and minister for health between 2016 and 2020.

He was appointed minister of the newly-created department of higher education, research, innovation and science in 2020 as part of the new coalition government with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

If elected, he will be the youngest ever Taoiseach and the first from Wicklow.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Assistant Editor and Features Editor