Who has new Taoiseach Simon Harris appointed to his ministerial team?

An accountant, two teachers and a barrister get new roles in the ranks of Fine Gael Ministers

New Taoiseach Simon Harris has announced four appointments to Fine Gael’s ministerial ranks as he shakes up his party’s team in Government. Who are they and what experience do they bring to their new roles?

Peter Burke

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Longford-Westmeath TD Peter Burke was the Junior Minister most heavily tipped to take a senior Cabinet position in the new Taoiseach’s reshuffle. He has duly been appointed as Minister for Enterprise, the most high-profile vacant position in Cabinet.


Popular within Fine Gael, Burke, who is a two-term TD, is seen by colleagues as “capable” and “solid”. Married with two children, the 41-year-old grew up on a farm near Mullingar and is a horse racing fan. He graduated with a degree in commerce from NUI Galway in 2004, and later qualified as a chartered accountant. He was first elected in the 2009, taking a seat on Westmeath County Council.

Burke was elected to the Dáil in 2016, and was returned again in 2020. He was initially appointed as Minister of State for Housing with responsibility for local government and planning.

When then-Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar assumed the role of taoiseach in December 2022, he selected Burke as Minister of State for European Affairs. Along with Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and Martin Heydon, Burke called for tax cuts for families worth €1,000 in an Irish Independent op-ed more than four months before last year’s budget, causing irritation for Coalition partners Fianna Fáil.

After Varadkar announced his resignation Burke was among Fine Gael TDs out early the next day to back Simon Harris as his replacement. He told RTÉ that morning that the Wicklow TD was “without doubt” the right person to lead Ireland and the party, and also said: “I wouldn’t like to see a contest just for the sake of a contest.”

Burke takes over at the Department of Enterprise at a time when Fine Gael has promised to deliver more support for small business. While there have been job losses in the tech sector in recent times Ireland currently has effectively full employment. The new Minister will want to maintain that situation in advance of the looming general election.

Patrick O’Donovan

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Patrick O’Donovan has been appointed to Harris’s old job as Minister for Higher Education. The move means there will still be a Fine Gael Minister with a seat at Cabinet from Munster in the wake of Simon Coveney’s departure. This is seen as important by some within Fine Gael as it is a region where the party has struggled in recent elections.

Limerick County TD O’Donovan was first elected to the Dáil in 2011, having previously served as a county councillor. Married with three children, the 47-year-old trained as a schoolteacher.

With a reputation as a political street fighter, he frequently goes out to bat for Fine Gael in the media. O’Donovan was appointed as Minister of State for Sport in 2016, and the following year was made Junior Minister in finance and public expenditure.

He has most recently been Junior Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), involved in responding to flooding incidents as well as the project to deliver modular homes for Ukrainian refugees.

O’Donovan was named in media reports in 2021 as allegedly being involved in a “sting operation” that attempted to exposé a leak from Cabinet. Asked about this on Live 95 radio at the time, O’Donovan said: “I never comment on anything that goes on in relation to the Fine Gael parliamentary party and I’m not going to do that now.”

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy claimed in the Dáil that Harris had leaked news of the appointment of former Independent minister Katherine Zappone as a UN envoy and suggested he had been the target of a Fine Gael sting operation. Harris vehemently denied the leaking charge.

The new Fine Gael leader was asked about the episode by reporters last week and he said “rumour mills” would not be a factor in his reshuffle decision and his thinking was “about putting the best team possible in place”. O’Donovan, meanwhile, insisted he has a “good relationship with the leader and have always had”.

Hildegarde Naughton

Government Chief Whip and Minister of State with responsibility for special education and inclusion.

Connacht has been without a senior Minister for most of the current Coalition’s term and the new Taoiseach’s reshuffle has not changed that.

Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton will still be a “Super-Junior” Minister, meaning she will still have a seat at Cabinet. She takes on the special education and inclusion brief which was vacant due to the resignation of Josepha Madigan last month.

Announcing Naughton’s appointment, Harris told the Dáil that special education will be “a priority area for me”. Naughton has been a Super-Junior Minister since the Coalition took power in 2020, first with responsibility for transport and more recently health, where she had responsibility for drugs strategy.

Naughton is among politicians to admit to drug use in the past, confirming last year that she had tried cannabis in her 20s but decided it “wasn’t for me”. She served as Government Chief Whip since the last reshuffle in 2022, tasked with ensuring the Coalition – which has a slim Dáil majority – can muster the votes to pass legislation and defend against Opposition no confidence motions.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has previously praised her for her role in ensuring there is no backlog of legislation in advance of Dáil recesses. Naughton studied economics and French at NUI Galway and trained and worked as a primary schoolteacher.

She was elected to Galway City Council in 2009, and served as mayor for a year. Appointed to the Seanad by then-taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2013, Naughton was first elected to the Dáil three years later. The 46-year-old is a classically trained soprano and she performs with a group called Bel Canto. Naughton has described her musical interest as “my golf”.

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Minister of State for European Affairs and Defence

With limited scope for Taoiseach Harris to change his Cabinet team, Dún Laoghaire TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill is getting the consolation prize of Minister of State for European Affairs. One of the most prominent Junior Minister roles in Government, the job involves preparing for European summits and travelling to Brussels and elsewhere on EU duties with the Taoiseach.

She will also be Minister of State for Defence. The mother-of-one is married to former Irish rugby star Hugo MacNeill. Still in her first term as a TD, the 43-year-old has long been seen as a rising star in Fine Gael.

She was elected as a councillor in 2019, and worked as an adviser to former taoiseach Enda Kenny as well as other former Fine Gael Cabinet members. A barrister by profession, Carroll MacNeill had been tipped as a possible replacement for Minister for Justice Helen McEntee had she been moved in the reshuffle.

During the 2020 election campaign Carroll MacNeill was harassed by a man who sent her sexually explicit videos. In 2022, Gerard Culhane, then 43-years-old, of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty to the offence and was given a one-year suspended jail sentence with strict conditions that he has no contact with Carroll MacNeill.

During the court proceedings Carroll MacNeill said she had been left with a “cold sense of dread” during the election campaign but also that she did not wish to be “a victim”.

Carroll MacNeill was appointed as Minister of State for Finance by former taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2022. Seen within Fine Gael as a strong media performer, she has frequently clashed with Sinn Féin in the Dáil and on the airwaves.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times