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Harris says he is ready to 'step up and serve'

Simon Harris has confirmed that he is "ready to step up, ready to serve" and will run for the leadership of Fine Gael.

Mr Harris, who is currently the minister for further and higher education, confirmed to Irish broadcaster RTÉ that he was running for the party leadership.

Leo Varadkar announced on Thursday he was stepping down as party leader immediately and resign as taoiseach as soon as his Fine Gael successor is selected.

Other ministers who were viewed as potential competitors have ruled themselves out of the top job.

Nominations for a new leader opened at 10:00 local time on Thursday and will close on Monday at 13:00.

If there is to be a contest the winner will be announced on 5 April.

Leo Varadkar and party members speaking to media
Leo Varadkar announced his decision to step down on Wednesday

Mr Harris was the early favourite with many bookmakers.

He had garnered a healthy roster of backers before nominations even opened.

Mr Harris said he was "humbled and honoured to have received the support from so many members of the parliamentary party, councillors and members.

"I want to thank them for placing their trust in me and I am confirming that I will be seeking to become the next leader of Fine Gael."

"If given the opportunity, I will give this my all," he added.

Before announcing his intention to run for the leadership, Mr Harris praised outgoing Leo Varadkar for his leadership of the party over the past seven years, and for his leadership of the country.

Mr Harris said that if appointed leader of the party, he wants to bring "energy and an enthusiasm" to the role.

"I also want to bring my practical life experience," he added.

"I want to work with colleagues, I want to listen, I want to really reconnect with our party right across the country. I want to get back to core principles," Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris was the youngest member of the 31st Dáil (lower house of Irish parliament) at the age of 24 and became health minister in 2016.

There he led the department during a change in Ireland's abortion law and at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as emergency lockdown measures were introduced.

Analysis

He was the boy wonder who dropped out of college to become a TD - he now stands a real chance of becoming taoiseach.

Wicklow’s Simon Harris says he was inspired by former Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny to get involved in politics.

Harris was distressed by the lack of services for his younger autistic brother when Kenny told him that joining politics was the only way to make real change.

A go-getter, he went for it.

He went on to nominate Mr Kenny for taoiseach at the age of 24 in his maiden speech in 2011.

The one-time baby of the house has had a meteoric rise.

His career highpoint was overseeing the Repeal the Eighth referendum and subsequent abortion legislation as minister for health.

He grew in popularity during his tenure during the first half of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Post 2020, some suspected his “demotion” to minister for higher education was due to how ambitious he had become and perhaps Mr Varadkar sensed a threat.

Mr Harris was one of the first Irish politicians to embrace TikTok with some now dubbing him the first “TikTok taoiseach”.

It is all to play for with nominations open till next week, but in this racing season, Mr Harris is an odds-on favourite.

Potential rivals stand aside

Paschal Donohoe
Paschal Donohoe is among ministers who will not contest the race

Paschal Donohoe, the current minister for public expenditure, national development plan delivery and reform, had been seen as a potential rival.

The 49-year-old Dubliner is a former finance and transport minister.

He has also been president of the Eurogroup since 2020, and informal body which brings together ministers from the eurozone area to discuss currency issues.

Speaking on Thursday he said: "I have long said that my focus is on the two jobs that I am privileged to hold; that of government minister and as president of the Eurogroup.

"That remains to be the case. It is with a huge honour that I undertake my work on the domestic and international stage."

Heather Humphreys 'considered' entering race

Heather Humphreys
Ulsterwoman Heather Humphreys is the minister for social protection

Heather Humphreys had been viewed as a potential taoiseach and would have been be the first Protestant to hold the post.

She has served in various cabinet positions since 2014 and is currently the minister for rural and community development as well as minister for social protection.

Born in the village of Drum, County Monaghan, in 1963, Ms Humphreys was manager of a credit union before she entered politics.

She said she had given serious consideration to contending the leadership contest, but on Thursday she confirmed she would instead back Mr Harris.

"I just want to thank everybody who contacted me in the last 24 hours and have asked me to put my name forward and have offered me their support," she told RTÉ.

'Not the right time' for Helen McEntee

Helen McEntee was also on the prospective list for taoiseach but confirmed on Thursday that she will not stand for the leadership of Fine Gael.

She told LMFM Radio on Thursday morning that it was "not the right time" for her.

Ms McEntee also said that she will not rule out running for the leadership role again in the future, and that she wanted to see a contest for the next leader.

The 37-year-old Navan native has been a TD since 2013 and is currently the justice minister.

She became a TD at the age of 26, succeeding her father after he took his own life.

Last year she survived a motion of no confidence following the Dublin riots in November, while there has also been a heated debate about hate speech legislation.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter on Thursday, she confirmed she was supporting Mr Harris for leader.

"A great colleague, a great communicator, I know he will bring huge energy to this important role," she wrote.

As it happened: Varadkar steps down