Simon Harris

Simon Harris

MANY FINE GAEL TDs and senators want Simon Harris to get a move on and go for the leadership of the party but the new dauphin (following the decline of Simon ‘Covetous’ Coveney’s ambitious designs) is stricken with fearful paralysis. The return to politics of justice minister Helen McEntee this week following her second round of maternity leave may jolt both contenders – if McEntee can still be so described – into action. But Harris is still favourite by a country mile and the only question right now is when or if he moves on Taoiseach and party leader Leo Varadkar.

There are murmurs of a stalking horse being put forward and other backbench forms of revolt while ‘Hamlet’ Harris ponders his options. But Helen and her minders are wondering if Simon’s delay is something she should take advantage of before he walks away with it.

The two are described as a show pony (McEntee) vying with a work horse (Harris) and if circumstances or party TDs forced a contest right now, the work horse would stroll into power. It may be unfair (it may even be sexist!) but the view is that Helen has babies while Simon gets things done – even in McEntee’s own justice portfolio – and one wonders why Vlad, supposedly Helen’s champion and mentor, put her deadly rival, Simon, into her job while she was on maternity leave.

Simon Harris also has the ability to persuade every TD or even party branch member he meets that he is genuinely interested in their issues and obsessions. He has recently found the time, despite being a dual minister in higher education and justice, to tour FG constituency AGMs in the west and south of the country where his deep, sincerely held concern for members’ preoccupations was on full display. It is difficult to overestimate how such behaviour affects members of political parties.

Helen McEntee

Helen McEntee

When Big Phil Hogan was cast into outer darkness after Golfgate, he began to agitate against Vlad’s leadership. His influence was still high within the party and he identified Harris as the leader-in-waiting. Big Phil’s authority has waned since then, although he still holds some sway, but the point is that the fabled power broker identified Harris as the only credible alternative leader. Then as now, the lack of credible and willing alternatives to Varadkar became obvious to all concerned.

The party’s poor poll ratings and Vlad’s alarming tendency for blundering statements has provoked the current mutinous feeling. However, Simon Harris fears a repetition of the shock-and-awe campaign that Vlad brought to bear on Covetous Coveney six years ago. Then the Dublin minister’s team destroyed the Cork man’s planes on the tarmac within minutes of the war being declared.

The initiative of three junior ministers – Peter Burke, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and Martin Heydon – reinvigorated the party last week with the usual FG aphrodisiac; tax relief for the middle class. That it provoked Fianna Fáil ministers into traditional combat with FG added greatly to the Blueshirts’ feel-good atmosphere initially engendered by the three juniors, who were endorsed fully by Vlad. However, the concern of shrewder, rebellious backbenchers and even ministers is that this is a temporary fillip that will make little difference to the public mood when it comes to local and general election time next year – or more imminently.

There is no loud clamour for leadership change in the parliamentary party, just a dawning acceptance and largely private chatter by most that matters need to be addressed and the current leadership – including handlers – is very much part of the problem. It is also accepted that, unless there is a radical shake-up, the local elections will deliver a political punishment beating of some considerable heft, followed by political assassination in the general election.

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