Varadkar resigns as Taoiseach with ‘no regrets’ as Harris loyalists eye promotion

New Cabinet is expected be announced to the Dáil at about 5pm on Tuesday

Saying he had “no regrets” about leaving office, Leo Varadkar resigned as Taoiseach on Monday night, clearing the way for new Fine Gael leader Simon Harris to succeed him today as Ireland’s 16th and, at 37, youngest ever taoiseach.

The Dáil is expected to vote for Mr Harris’s nomination this morning, after which he will go to Áras an Uachtaráin to be officially appointed to the role by President Michael D Higgins.

Mr Harris will then return to Government Buildings as taoiseach where he will begin to inform colleagues of his Cabinet choices. The new Cabinet will be announced to the Dáil at about 5pm, it is expected.

Though all Ministers are deemed to have resigned when the Taoiseach resigns, Fianna Fáil and Green Ministers will be reappointed by Mr Harris under the agreement between the parties. However, Mr Harris has choices to make about the Fine Gael Ministers with TDs loyal to him eyeing promotion.


With Mr Varadkar’s departure and the surprise announcement by Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney that he would not seek reappointment to his post, Mr Harris has at least two Cabinet vacancies to fill.

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There was intense speculation, but little hard information, in Fine Gael on Monday night over potential promotions and demotions, as the Cabinet gathered in Farmleigh for a farewell dinner for Mr Varadkar.

Sources were divided about the future of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who has lobbied strongly to keep her job.

Several Fine Gael TDs who spoke to The Irish Times last night said they expected the two key promotions would be Peter Burke to the Department of Enterprise, and Hildegarde Naughton to Mr Harris’s former role as Minister for Higher and Further Education, but others suggested that Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan would be promoted.

Mr Burke, a Longford-Westmeath TD, is close to Mr Harris. He has been Minister of State for European Affairs. Mr Burke is due to second Mr Harris’s nomination for taoiseach, after he is proposed by Fine Gael deputy leader Heather Humphreys.

Ms Naughton already sits at Cabinet in her role as Government chief whip. A former schoolteacher, the Galway West TD was described by one colleague as a “good fit” for Higher Education.

Not all Fine Gael sources agreed, however, with some suggesting that any of the other widely-touted contenders – Dublin TDs Jennifer Carroll-MacNeill and Neale Richmond and Mr O’Donovan – could be in line for promotion.

Ms Carroll-MacNeill, in particular, is said to be highly regarded by officials in the Department of Finance where she currently serves as a Minister of State.

Other sources suggested that geography would favour Mr O’Donovan, without whom there would be no Fine Gael Cabinet minister from Munster.

If Ms Naughton is promoted to a full Cabinet role, one of the three is likely to be made chief whip.

If Mr Richmond is not promoted, sources expect him to be offered Mr Burke’s current role as Minister of State for European Affairs. He was the first member of the parliamentary party to publicly back Mr Harris’s bid to become leader.

It is understood Mr Harris will place a “renewed focus” on the European affairs brief with someone he “rates highly” appointed who can communicate major European Union issues such as security and migration at home”. The announcement of Ministers of State and their roles will be on Wednesday.

It is thought likely that Rossa Fanning will be reappointed to the role of Attorney General.

On Monday, Cathal Berry and Peter Fitzpatrick became the latest Independent TDs to confirm they would support Mr Harris in today’s vote.

Aside from Mr Berry and Mr Fitzpatrick the other Independent TDs who have indicated they will vote for Mr Harris on Tuesday are Noel Grealish of Galway West; Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten; Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry; Tipperary TD Michael Lowry; and Donegal’s Joe McHugh, a former Fine Gael minister who is without the whip.

Green Party Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan, who is currently suspended from her parliamentary party for a vote against the Government last year, has also confirmed she will vote for Mr Harris.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times