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Home / News / How ‘Leo’s Day’ turned quickly to Simon Harris’ moment

How ‘Leo’s Day’ turned quickly to Simon Harris’ moment

Yesterday was ‘Leo’s Day’, we were told.

Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs told the me that they did not want to talk about succession, but rather the qualities and attributes of their soon-to-be former leader, Leo Varadkar.

But behind the scenes, there was a well rehearsed plan falling into place.

One Fine Gael Senator, standing in the Leinster House carpark yesterday afternoon, looked at me and laughed: “The phones are hopping.”

By late last night, the guts of the Simon Harris plan was known: shock-and-awe.

A campaign source told me that a slew of Fine Gael politicians had been lined-up to announce their support for a Harris candidacy.

It started a 7.43am, with the Fine Gael group leader on Offaly County Council, Cllr Liam Quinn, backing Harris.

By 9am, Minister of State Neale Richmond had declared his support along with deputy Frankie Feighan and Senators Barry Ward, Michael Conway, Micheál Carrigy, and Tim Lombard.

The MEPs were also getting in on the act – Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh.

The political juggernaut continued in the same relentless fashion, hour after hour.

Simon Harris was racking-up support across the parliamentary party, and among councillors.

With Simon Coveney having counted himself out, the focus of attention was on other possible candidates: Paschal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee.

The Justice Minister announced by mid-morning that she was out of the race, telling LMFM that “It’s not the right time”.

She declined to endorse Simon Harris, keeping her options open by saying she wanted to see what other candidates might announce themselves.

The declarations continued for Harris: from Ministers of State Patrick O’Donovan and Peter Burke, along with influential Senator Paddy Burke.

The pressure to get an indication from Humphreys and Donohoe reached crescendo level – even though the deadline for declarations is Monday lunchtime.

Around midday, Heather Humphreys indicated that she would announce her position on the RTÉ 1pm TV bulletin.

Paschal Donohoe, however, appeared to be travelling to Brussels in his role as President of the Eurogroup countries.

When the end came, however, it was both swift and conclusive.

Heather Humphreys told RTÉ News that, after much consideration, she would not stand and she backed Simon Harris.

At the very same time, I received a text which clarified that Paschal Donohoe was also not standing – notably the statement did not mention Simon Harris.

With all four main possible opponents off the pitch – Coveney, McEntee, Humphreys and Donohoe – it was possible to tell the lunchtime news that the contest was over and Simon Harris would be the next leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach of Ireland.

The shock-and-awe campaign had worked, and 37-year-old Simon Harris will eclipse his predecessor Leo Varadkar, will get the top political job he’s so long coveted and become Ireland’s youngest ever Taoiseach.

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