Sunday 25 August 2019

Harris talks up health accolades as he stokes leadership ambitions

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Health Minister Simon Harris has reignited his ambition to be Taoiseach.

Mr Harris talked up his career achievements to date in an interview with a prestigious Brussels-based news outlet.

He did not rule out the prospect of becoming Taoiseach in an interview with the highly respected Politico website as part of a profile article headlined: "The next Irish PM?"

"Certainly, if you manage the Department of Health, I suppose it shows your abilities to take on a big role in government," Mr Harris said.

He touted some of his achievements to date including the 2018 referendum on abortion, the introduction of tough laws to crack down on alcohol abuse, negotiating prices for cystic fibrosis drugs and agreeing on the cross-party Sláintecare plan to overhaul the health service.

"I'm now at the ripe old age of 32, one of the longest-serving health ministers in the EU, which is kind of interesting, in a minority government," he said. The interview, as part of a largely glowing profile, set tongues wagging in Irish political circles yesterday.

However, some Fine Gael colleagues were humoured by the contention Mr Harris was plotting a future leadership bid, one texting: "LOL (laughing out loud)". Another joked they were on "Team Rock" instead, a reference to freshman TD Noel Rock.

A source close to Mr Harris played down the suggestion he was seeking to bolster his leadership ambitions, insisting he merely answered a question put to him by journalist Carmen Paun.

The article noted the comments of CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan, who said in January that Mr Harris "would make a great Taoiseach" and includes an interview with former health minister Mary Harney, who expressed her admiration for how he handled the abortion referendum and how popular and hands-on the minister is.

Mr Harris told the 'Sunday Independent' in June "you never say never" when asked if he wanted to be Taoiseach.

"I'm ambitious but being Taoiseach is not something for now," he said.

Irish Independent

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