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Speed at which Team Harris left the traps yesterday raised eyebrows around Leinster House

No sooner had Leo Varadkar made his shock resignation announcement than the Minister was marshalling the troops to support him

It was a precision roll-out, timed to coincide with the morning news cycle.

From then on, the endorsements came in waves.

Five hours later and Simon Harris was a leader in his own lunchtime.

If Leo Varadkar’s sudden resignation was shocking, Harris’s swift succession was stunning.


Taoiseach (almost) designate at the tender age of 37 – a record-breaking year younger than Varadkar when he took over from Enda Kenny.

Simon learned a lot from the clinical manner of his predecessor’s accession. If Varadkar moved fast, Harris neutralised any potential rivals with such a rapid response it made the army rangers look like laggards.

The speed at which Team Harris left the traps on Thursday morning raised eyebrows around Leinster House. Their powers of anticipation bordered on the psychic.

People couldn’t help wondering if some sort of extra-sensory deception was involved and whether Harris got early wind of the move.

“It looks like your campaign was well rehearsed,” remarked RTÉ’s Sharon Tobin when he made his first public appearance on the evening news having taken a wrecking ball to any idea of a ballot box showdown.

“To be honest, it may look like that but it certainly didn’t feel like that over the last 24 hours,” he replied. “Let’s be honest, it came as a great shock to myself, and indeed to everybody in Fine Gael.”

But Simon certainly wasn’t caught on the hop.

Then again, there has never been any doubt about his singular ambition to become Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, even if he did tell Sharon, “I am an accidental politician in many ways.”

Given the nature of this political beast, when his moment arrived unexpectedly, was it so unexpected to find him fully geared up and ready to go?

In an unusually quiet Dáil bar on Wednesday night, as astonishment over Varadkar’s announcement subsided, Government politicians went from expressing their shock at his imminent departure to declaring they weren’t at all surprised by the news.

The few Fine Gael TDs and Senators about the place were not keen to express a view on who might be their next leader. But as the night wore on, a certain bullishness was quietly emerging from the Harris quarter.

There was a strategy in place and it was ready to go. Immediately after Leo’s midday statement on Wednesday, colleagues began ringing with pledges of support. After lunch, a list was drawn up of definites, probables and those in need of some persuasion.

A small team worked the phones and by the time Harris clocked off at 1am the plan was ready to roll.

Cue visions of Harris and his closest advisers holed up in the Department of Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science (HEIRS), the Minister moving tiny action figures of Fine Gael parliamentary party members across the war room map table with a croupier’s stick.

Neale Richmond into position on Morning Ireland. Colm Burke nudged into Newstalk. Barry Ward shunted towards The Irish Times. Senator Tim Lombard in from Cork. Brendan Griffin slotted into place from Kerry.

Wave after wave of declarations. MEPs marshalled. Councillors joining the charge.

Why did Leo Varadkar choose this moment to go?

Listen | 35:26

There is radio silence from Phibsborough (Paschal Donohoe) and Aghabog (Heather Humphreys). Will they make a move? The clock is ticking.

As the names stack up on one side with none on the other, the contest to be crowned leader of Fine Gael – it comes with its own poisoned chalice – looks like a one-horse race. And it’s not even time for elevenses yet.

Runners and riders already jostling for position in the Promote Me Please maiden bumper.

Harris’s numbers hit 24 at lunchtime – his age when he was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011. The support keeps coming.

Heather Humphreys, a popular Minister across the party and a refreshing antidote to the powerful Dublin-centric set, holds out until one o’clock before declaring her support. They may be at either ends of the Cabinet age spectrum, but Heather and Harris are close.

Her decision was never in doubt. Before she went out to the plinth, she met the taoiseach-to-be in his office.

She will be his deputy leader, which is more than enough because, as Heather later explained, she already has two big departments to mind along with a husband and two daughters and two grandchildren and one of the two daughters getting married in two weeks’ time.

Then Paschal Donohoe sends word that he won’t be running either and takes himself off to a European summit.

Last week the IMF. This week Taoiseach? Probably best for Paschal to stick.

Joe Duffy opens Liveline: “Our next Taoiseach was 14 at the turn of the century ...”

The Dáil is due to reconvene at 2pm, when it’s all over bar the ... Oh, wait, Pearse Doherty is in for Mary Lou McDonald so at least there are no worries on the shouting front.

Micheál Martin is up for a fight in the face of Pearse’s taunts about “three tee-she” for one government. The Tánaiste is determined that the Coalition will run its full course.

Pearse accuses him of running scared of a general election. Come out and fight. “We’ll go toe to toe!”

Whatever about toes, Micheál digs in his heels. “You’re not even ready for a general election!”

As Fine Gael deals with pre-coronation convulsions, Fianna Fáil is playing its Grown-Ups in the Room card. At least until some TDs start demanding that Micheál be given the job of Taoiseach again in advance of some Simon-come-lately from Greystones.

Harris has lunch with junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan. Another one in the bag.

But, apart from a measured contribution from Richard Bruton about procedure and a notable show of support from the youthful Brendan Griffin, most of the Fine Gael TDs who intend to retire after the next election stay schtum.

The awkward squad is silent. The cantankerous Statlers and Waldorfs are behaving themselves in their comfortable box seats, for now.

Simon the shoo-in finally breaks cover to appear on the Six One news, his hair looking a bit more grey than it did 24 hours earlier.

“I am here tonight to say I am putting my name forward,” he declares, to nobody’s surprise.

Humbled, overwhelmed, shocked, grateful, invigorated, energised, enthusiastic, ready, committed, honoured, Heather Humphreyed and mindful of all the learnings.

“I’m in listening mode.”

Ah, jaysus.

He will be informally unveiled at a press conference on Friday morning in advance of his formal unveiling at Fine Gael’s annual conference in two weeks’ time and his installation as taoiseach in the Dáil on April 6th.