Tuesday 6 December 2016

Harris hints he is ready to take on old guard in leadership race

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke

Health Minister Simon Harris has given his strongest indication to date that he may challenge for the Fine Gael leadership once Taoiseach Enda Kenny steps aside.

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In a rallying speech at a Young Fine Gael conference yesterday, Mr Harris insisted that youth and inexperience were no reason to dismiss a person's abilities or ideas.

The 30-year-old said it used to drive him "nuts" and make him livid that people would question his ability to take on the responsibility of ministerial office owing to his age. "Yes, we are young but that's a qualifier, not a disqualifier," he said.

The minister also quoted advice that John F Kennedy received from his father before beginning his career in politics: "Son, don't wait your turn."

Mr Harris's speech focused on reducing limitations for ambitious young people but also addressed the rise of populism and the need for more visionary politicians.

Sources close to the minister said the address was a landmark speech aimed at showing that the older members of Fine Gael were not the only ones with a vision for the country. "If Leo Varadkar made a speech like this it would be a page one story," one said.

Sources close to Mr Varadkar last night insisted the Social Protection Minister would like there to be a contest so the whole of the party was fully engaged and energised and the new leader had a mandate for its plans.

Sources close to Mr Harris previously indicated he would not let Mr Varadkar have a free run at the leadership.

Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald also spoke at the conference. Mr Harris is seen as a close confidant of Ms Fitzgerald and until now a key ally in the Tanaiste's bid to replace Mr Kenny as Fine Gael leader.

In his speech, Mr Harris said he hoped to prove through his ministry that young people had the ability to service in high office.

"Being responsible as a Minister for Health means many things, but one of the most important is that I am responsible to you," he said.

"I must perform, I must do the very best of which I am capable, because I have to prove not only that younger members of Fine Gael can step up to the plate and deliver, but that there should be no delay in asking them to step up to the plate and deliver," he added. The minister attacked the politics of "credit-taking and legacy-crafting".

"I'm not saying we shouldn't leave a legacy or acknowledge those of any party who do. But the idea that any of us should do the right thing, not because it is the right thing, but because it will be a decoration on our political tombstone. Let's get a small bit of a grip. Let's just do it because it should be done. Let's do it in hope and idealism and optimism," he said.

The Tanaiste delivered a similarly visionary speech in which she detailed her career as a social worker and campaigner on women's issues. She also outlined her vision for Ireland based on social justice and equality of opportunity.

Ms Fitzgerald called for the politics of the centre to stand up and fight in the face of populism and extremism.

"A simple post-war assumption has been that the centre - be it left or right - holds against extremism. We cannot assume that any more. We have to fight to defend it," she said.

In attempt to reach out to younger Fine Gael members and voters, Ms Fitzgerald referenced popular US comedian Amy Schumer.

"Feminism is more relevant than ever to women, to men, and to the sustainable future of our whole society. Indeed feminism is becoming dangerously fashionable," she said.

"When Amy Schumer says that 'Anyone who is not a feminist is an insane person', you know that feminism is becoming hot.

"What better time, therefore, to redouble our efforts toward a better future for women and girls?"

Sunday Independent

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