Saturday 22 July 2017

FG contender Varadkar refuses to say if he backs Harris as health minister

Leadership rivals have both expressed a willingness to take part in a TV head-to-head

Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar
Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has refused to say whether he believes Simon Harris should continue as Health Minister under a new leader.

He said: "I'm not going there" when it was put to him that the Department of Health needs some stability after three ministers in three years.

"That's something I haven't given much consideration to at this stage. Before I answer any questions from the media about future positions people might hold I should have that conversation with them first," he said.

Mr Harris has not yet declared his support for a potential successor to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, but sources say he will be a central figure in Simon Coveney's campaign.

Separately, Fine Gael bosses will not give in to demands from Leo Varadkar for a televised debate between the contenders to replace Enda Kenny as leader.

Mr Varadkar and his main rival Mr Coveney have both expressed a willingness to take part in a TV head-to-head - but party officials have warned them "not to go rogue".

The Irish Independent understands a compromise will be offered to the candidates whereby the media will have full access to four regional hustings due to take place in Dublin, Cork, the midlands and the west.

Sources said the party would not enter a situation where it had to chose one media outlet over another for a debate.

"The party will lose control once a broadcaster takes over. A debate might sound like a good idea now but they might be hit with questions they don't like," a source said.

Mr Varadkar has already demanded that Fine Gael's executive council changes its approach, arguing the competition to replace Mr Kenny is "not just an internal matter for Fine Gael".

"When the contest does come we're not just electing a Fine Gael leader, we're also electing potentially the new Taoiseach of the country," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said he would be "happy" to take part in a debate, "but that it would need to be worked out by Fine Gael headquarters in terms of the campaign".

Speculation

Speculation about the Taoiseach's departure date has again engulfed Leinster House following the adoption of the EU's negotiation position for Brexit.

Mr Kenny is in Canada today where he will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A spokesperson said he currently had no other plans for foreign trips. As a result there is a growing expectation within the Cabinet that Mr Kenny will outline his plans to step down by the end of the month.

Yesterday Mr Varadkar said he had "given up speculating".

"I've always said the timeline is a matter for Enda Kenny. I've never departed from that position," he said.

In an apparent swipe at his leadership rival, Mr Varadkar added: "I know Simon [Coveney] has talked about announcements being made shortly after St Patrick's Day, about it being weeks rather than months.

"As far back as February he was saying that, I've never set a deadline. I've always said it's up to the Taoiseach."

Irish Independent

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