Harris builds up his leadership credentials with nationwide tour
Health Minister Simon Harris has moved to bolster his leadership credentials after pledging to embark on a nationwide tour to listen to TDs' concerns about the health service.
In an email to Fine Gael politicians last night, Mr Harris insisted that the party was sent a "very clear message from the electorate" and that the Government must start delivering in the area of healthcare.
And in a similar move taken by Leo Varadkar, the Wicklow/East Carlow TD has vowed to hold weekly meetings with his colleagues to discuss their concerns.
"I will also be visiting many of your constituencies during the recess period and I will let you know when I will be in your area. In addition to visiting health facilities and seeing the health service in action, I am, of course, happy to meet with Fine Gael members and attend other events with you," Mr Harris wrote.
"In the last election we heard a very clear message from the electorate - a message about alongside a growing economy, wanting to see vital services such as the health service deliver for them, their family and their community.
"I am determined to work as hard as I can to make a positive impact in this area. We face major challenges after a number of extraordinarily difficult few years but I won't be found lacking in terms of effort and look forward to working with you," he added.
In his email, seen by the Irish Independent, Mr Harris said the health service could not be run with an eye on the next general election, saying a long-term vision was required.
"We cannot run the health service from election cycle to election cycle nor can we have a situation where with each new Minister for Health comes with a range of new reforms. We need a roadmap and a plan as to where we want our health service to be in the next decade."
He also detailed a list of 13 areas which he will deliver on:
The provision of a medical card to every child in receipt of domiciliary care allowance;
The provision of extra home help hours;
The full restoration of the mental health budget;
The provision of additional resources to school leavers with disabilities.
Mr Harris also said he would shortly publish a national obesity plan for Ireland as well as a winter initiative for hospitals.
"This involves looking at what we can do to deal with the fact that we know our health service comes under more pressure each winter," he said.
The minister also referred to the current row involving the new maternity hospital.
"The current situation at Holles Street is entirely inadequate for women and their babies. Women deserve better. This maternity hospital project is funded and plans have been drawn up. A solution must be found so this landmark project can be delivered. I will not be found wanting in pursuing this."
While Mr Harris is rarely mentioned as a candidate in the race to succeed Enda Kenny, his email will be seen as a bid to position himself as a candidate in the future.
He to ruled himself "in or out" of any future contest during a recent interview with his local radio station East Coast FM.
Supporters of his have pointed to his ability to get to grips with the problems in health far more successfully than his predecessors.
But he will come under pressure in the winter when the overcrowding crisis typically worsens.