HEALTH Minister Simon Harris will not be entering the race to replace Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael.
The 30-year-old has today said he does not believe it is the right time to looking for the top job.
His decision means that focus will now turn to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Education Minister Richard Bruton who have yet to decide whether they will be contenders.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney have effectively confirmed that they will enter the contest.
Mr Harris also denied that he wants out of the Department of Health, as was suggested in a leaked WhatsApp message by Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.
“I’ve never been one to run away from any challenge,” Mr Harris said.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, he declined to say who he would like to see as the next Fine Gael leader but admitted that he is very close to Ms Fitzgerald, describing her as a “mentor”.
“My loyalty is to the Taoiseach and when the Taoiseach makes his decision to step aside I’ll make my decision on who to support,” Mr Harris said.
He said being Health Minister is “one of the most difficult jobs in the Irish government”.
“Being minister for health is a bit like eating an elephant. You’ve got to do it bite by bite,” Mr Harris said.
However, he said there have been “incremental progress” since he took over last May and is “managing to right a few wrongs”.
“I’d be delighted to stay in this job but obviously that’s a choice for the Taoiseach of the day,” he said.