herald

Monday 21 August 2017

Harris and Fitzgerald fail to rule out leadership bids as Kenny silent on future

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald (pictured) and Health Minister Simon Harris have not ruled themselves out of a leadership race
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald (pictured) and Health Minister Simon Harris have not ruled themselves out of a leadership race
Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris and Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald are the latest Cabinet members who have failed to rule themselves out of the race to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Meanwhile, as Fine Gael members await Mr Kenny's expected statement on his future to the parliamentary party tomorrow, fears have gripped TDs that he will not name a specific date for his departure at all.

Several sources told the Herald they suspect Mr Kenny will try to "dig in" or "avoid giving a clear outline of his intentions".

Mr Kenny again refused to comment on his leadership last night.

"I'll be speaking to the parliamentary party on Wednesday, as I said. Thank you very much," he told RTE.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney have long been viewed as best placed to succeed the Taoiseach, but a compromise candidate remains a distinct possibility when Mr Kenny does step aside.

In the absence of clarity from Mr Kenny on his intentions, more Cabinet members have refused to rule themselves out of contention. Mr Harris twice yesterday declined to say his name wouldn't be going forward as a possible leader.

During a visit to University Hospital Galway last night, Mr Harris (30), indicated that youth should not be barrier to consideration for the job.

Vacancy

"Age to me is immaterial, I look to be judged on my job and the job that I am doing, and I am working as hard as I possibly can at that job," Mr Harris said.

"I try to provide leadership in whatever role I am given", he added, listing his time as a county councillor, TD and previous role as junior minister.

"There is no vacancy in the Fine Gael party. If and when one does arise I will consult with colleagues at that point".

Earlier, the Wicklow TD insisted he was dedicated to his job as Health Minister.

He was responding to a WhatsApp message Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan posted in a Fine Gael chat on Sunday saying: "He hasn't announced yet but Frances is encouraging him. He wants out of Health."

Mr Harris said: "My colleague Charlie Flanagan has many, many fine attributes. He's a great colleague of mine, but I think funny jokes on a Sunday afternoon is clearly not one of them.

"I'm absolutely honoured to hold this position," he added.

The message was dismissed as "jovial Sunday afternoon banter" by Mr Flanagan, who also said: "I regret that it's been taken so seriously."

Ms Fitzgerald has also left the prospect of a bid for the leadership.

"It's very important that we wait and hear what the Taoiseach has to say [on Wednesday]. And when he's made that clear I'll be considering my own position," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Mr Bruton - who launched an unsuccessful heave against Mr Kenny in 2010 - again failed to rule out a bid to replace him, having previously declined to do so last Friday.

"There is no vacancy. I'm not commenting on any of the contenders, I'm not commenting on this matter," he said.

"This is a time of challenge and we, as a mature party, need to sit down together, discuss the issues and make the right decisions for the future and that's my primary interest."

Speaking in Cork yesterday, Mr Coveney appealed for calm within the Fine Gael ranks and signalled he would not back a no confidence motion if one is tabled within the party after Mr Kenny's statement.

"What we have is a lot of impatience from some people. But what I have said very clearly over the weekend is that I trust the Taoiseach's judgment to manage a process of transition within the party but also a process of transition for the country," he said.

Mr Coveney said Mr Kenny "deserves the time and space" to step down of his own volition.

"I am not going to start laying down timetables or conditions and I am certainly not going to support anybody who suggests that we should be forcing the issue," he added.

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