Simon Coveney warns Leo Varadkar against dropping Simon Harris

Simon Coveney has warned against dropping Health Minister Simon Harris from Cabinet, writes Elaine Loughlin.

As new Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar mulls over who he will keep in Cabinet and who will be demoted, Mr Coveney, who lost out in the leadership race, says he “hopes and expects” that Mr Harris will be retained.

Mr Coveney said the careers of those who supported him during the leadership campaign should not be damaged in any way and has called for unity within the party.

Many of those who remained loyal to Mr Varadkar and were left on the back-benches during Enda Kenny’s time as Taoiseach will be hoping to secure either junior or senior ministerial positions, including John Paul Phelan, who is widely tipped to be made Government chief whip.

Others expecting promotions include Brendan Griffin, Pat Deering, John Deasy, Jim Daly, and Fergus O’Dowd.

Mr Coveney refused to indicate whether he had spoken to Mr Varadkar about being appointed tánaiste when the new cabinet is announced, expected to be next Tuesday.

Wicklow TD Mr Harris was one of the most high- profile members of Fine Gael to back Mr Coveney in his failed leadership bid and there are now fears that he will be punished for doing so.

When asked about Mr Harris’s future in the Cabinet, Mr Coveney said: “I think there is a big responsibility on me” to ensure the party is unified.

“Simon Harris is a very talented guy, a very able communicator, he is only 30 years of age, he has a huge contribution to make to politics so I would hope and expect that he will be part of Leo’s plan.

“One if the things I have made very clear to Leo is that we need to unify the party now and people who supported me shouldn’t in any way be damaged by that in terms of their career,” he said on Cork’s 96FM.

Mr Coveney said that he spoke with Mr Varadkar for around 90 minutes on Saturday and has been in regular contact since then over putting together a new frontbench.

He said a decision on whether he will remain on in the Department of Housing has yet to be made and he likewise remained tight-lipped on rumours that he may be given the position of tánaiste.

Mr Coveney said: “What I would like to do is have the maximum impact I can in Government, if it’s staying in Housing I would be happy with that; if it’s another area that needs energy and focus and good ideas, I am happy to go there too.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper.


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